Cucuzza – Summer Sicilian Squash 

Zucchine Lunghe Siciliane

 Cucuzze a Ghiotta  

 

Sicilian summer squashes, the cucuzze grow from June to the end of August. In this period the cucuzze are offered all over Sicily, in all vegetable markets and at a very reasonable price; in the United States and in areas where Sicilian-American live, summer squashes are available in farmers markets, or else if you have a green thumb they can be grown without much effort in your own backyard.     

Cucuzza PlantCucuzzaCucuzze & Tenerumi

The squash has a pale green skin and white flesh and seeds, which are both edible; it has a sweet taste, pleasant mild flavor and a good and firm consistency. They grow in trellis to allow the plant to expand, so the fruits, the cucuzze which grow over 2 feet long can hang down. The tips, buds, vine tendrils and the end leaves called tenerumi, are edible and can be served as a side dish or with broken spaghetti, the pasta with tenerumi.

  PreparationPreparation 2Diced Summer Squash

In Sicily, the plentiful cucuzze are preferred for the easiness of the preparation, for the delicious taste and for the many health benefits. In fact the cucuzza besides being low in calories, helps the digestion because of its high fiber contain, it prevents constipation and helps to lower blood sugar. Among other benefits, it is anti-inflammatory, it contains various vitamins and manganese, it lowers cholesterol, it prevents cancer, it is beneficial to the prostrate and it helps to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

In my family, the cucuzze were mostly cooked “alla ghiotta” with garlic or onions, olive oil, basil and a little tomato either concentrated, canned, sun dried or fresh; however my aunt Francesca, who lived with us, sometimes prepared the zucchine “in bianco”, without tomato, but garnished with diced cheese, which she added to anything she cooked.

A potato cut in quarts and sliced thin, can be added to make the cucuzza soup creamer and thicker.    

Serves 4 

INGREDIENTS

·        1 cucuzza, about 2 ½ lb.

·        4 tablespoons olive oil

·        1 small onion, diced or 5 cloves of garlic, crushed

·        2 medium size potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

·        4 large pieces of sun dried tomato, chopped

·        Small bunch of fresh basil leaves

·        Salt and pepper

 

PREPARATION 

The Cucuzza

Rinse the cucuzza with cold water and drain and pat dry with a kitchen towel.

Cut off the stem and cut the zucchini in 3 or 4 pieces. Carefully remove the skin with a sharp knife or with a potato peeler and cut each piece lengthwise into 4 wedges, then cut each section into 1 inch piece. Set on the side.

 

The Assembly

In a 5 ½ quart sauté pan, over medium heat, place 4 tablespoons of oil and the diced onions. Cook for a few minutes then add the potatoes and the tomato and continue cooking for an additional 3 minutes.

Add the cucuzza, salt and pepper to taste, cover with a tight lid and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the cucuzza is tender but firm. Add and mix in the fresh basil and transfer to a bowl.

Serve with crusty Italian bread and pepperoncino on the side.

Cucuzza a Ghiotta

NOTE

1.     To make the “in bianco” version mix all ingredients in a pot, except for the tomato. Add a ¼ of a cup of water and cover with a tight lid; simmer for 25 minutes, or until the cucuzza is tender but firm.

2.     To make pasta with cucuzza use either version of those preparations. For 6 persons, cook separately ½ lb. of broken spaghetti for 5 minutes; reserve the cooking water. Mix the prepared pasta with the cooked cucuzza, add some of the reserved cooking water to obtain the desired consistency and finish cooking until the pasta is “al dente” or to your taste. Drizzle the pasta and cucuzza with some olive oil and serve with grated pecorino cheese on the side.