Ever since last week's momentous meal, I've been in my Italian happy place. Early this spring, my cousin (Kim Cucuzza) and I found a source for the seed that shares our Italian name. My mother and Kim's father are twins. I've always loved my Mom's maiden name: Cucuzza. Pronounced (ga-gootz-ah). I had known that the name meant some type of squash, but didn't realize it was something unique - or that I could get it!! I ordered the seed in April with giddy excitement, amazed that I would hopefully be able to grow this food with such a strong tie to my family name.
Starting this seed carefully in the basement, then transferring it outside once it was warm enough - I watched it every step of the way.
Would our summer be hot enough? I'd read that they grow beautifully in the hot, humid south...
Soon, it became evident that I didn't have much to worry about. The 3 plants I'd started took off!
Before long it completely took over the whole side of the house! But then, I began to worry. Many of the small squash that began to grow would get a few inches long, and then start to rot and die.
I began to think that I might not get any of this squash at all the first season. I researched and it seemed it was due to a calcium deficiency in the soil....so I added bone meal to the soil, all the while being realistic that it might be too late. I even tried a foliar spray to get calcium to those little babies. The situation was dire!
Before long though, I soon saw one, then two, then three long Cucuzzas forming on the vine. I read later that the male and female flowers do not open at the same time - making it very difficult for the fruit to set. So it might not have been calcium issue at all. At any rate - I had some Cucuzzas and I was happy! I have been getting out there with a tiny paintbrush to hand pollinate them - I want to make sure I have enough squash growing for when my cousin Kim comes again to visit this fall.
It was SO fun watching these beauties appear. They were peeking in my windows and grabbing onto the screens...
When the day finally came to pick one, I was emotional. For how many years had my famiglia been growing these wonderfully long almost silly looking squash in Italy? Perhaps they farmed it and were named after it - or it was named after them?
After picking this 3 foot long squash, we marched inside - uncorked some red wine and turned up the music. The girls all had a turn being silly and pretending it was a baseball bat, and we made sure we all knew the words to this song:
Pretty cool, huh? Even Louis Prima knew how special Cucuzza is!
I made a very simple red sauce with onion, (lots of) garlic, red wine & basil and some Italian sausage. I added the Cucuzza and cooked it for about 20- 25 more minutes until really soft and tender.
We served the sauce over Farfalle in my Grandma Scarpenti's old stone bowl and served up each plate with some fresh grated Parmesan. I told everyone to wait to take a bite until we all sat down together ... this was not any ordinary meal and we had to stop and savor it together...
Here's the fun part... I'd assumed that the only unique thing about a Cucuzza was it's odd size. Once I cut it open and cooked it, I thought it would probably taste like a zucchini or any other mild squash. (Many recipes I'd looked up said you could substitute zucchini for the Cucuzza).
BUT IT WAS DIFFERENT!!
All of us were so surprised to taste a bright tang with our first bite. It has a bit of a citrus taste - very unique - which was such a pleasant surprise. Even more wonderfully, I read that you also can eat the greens!!
The tender young leaves of a Cucuzza plant when harvested and cooked is called Tenerumi. The leaves and flowers of this plant are totally unique. They don't have the prickly, hollow stems of a zucchini, and the flowers are a beautiful papery white - instead of yellow. The leaves are soft, but I still didn't believe they would actually taste good cooked...
I picked just a couple of small leaves, chopped some garlic and added a glug of olive oil to the pan. I fried those chopped leaves and tasted some on top of some crusty bread.
Mama Mia! They were delicious!!
Almost too much for one evening...
Since then, we've eaten Cucuzza breaded & fried, sauteed in white wine and we hope to stuff one this week. I'm thrilled to have this family Italian squash and I plan to save the seeds and pass them on for my grandchildren to enjoy.
I plan to teach them that their Italian ancestors probably closed their eyes, moaned and cried when they ate too.