Friday, October 5, 2012

Cucuzza Siciliana… Comfort Food Sicilian Style

My son Carlo harvesting cucuzze!
 The great Louis Prima said it best:

My Cucuzza
Cucuzza bella
She's my pizza pie with lotsa mozzarella
With Cucuzza
I wanta be
'cause Cucuzza is so crazy over me
Cucuzza grows in Italy
They love it on the farm
It's something like zucchini
Flavoured with Italian charm
I call my girl Cucuzza
'cause she's sweet as she can be
She loves to hear me say

"Cucuzza please babotcha me"

 This modest variety of squash, certainly not the most prized in Sicily, is a true Sicilian comfort food. Sophia Loren was once quoted as saying that the classic Neapolitan pasta e fagioli, brought tears to her eyes. I consider cucuzza in the same category. To smell it cooking, is to smell the fragrance of a loving home and it always brings me back to childhood. Despite being inexpensive and often fed to farm animals like geese and duck, cucuzza enjoys a particularly high regard among Sicilians. (One hears stories of geese being fed too much cucuzza and tipping over!) Anecdotes about the health benefits of cucuzza abound. My grandmothers always told me that eating cucuzza cleansed the stomach, eased the digestion, cleared up the skin and took care of just about any other ailment one might have. I have never questioned this wisdom.

 In a recent trip to Sicily, my father’s eldest brother, Francesco, a man of regal bearing now in his 80’s who is close to the land, and with whom I have always shared an interest in gardening, gave me some of his prized cucuzza seeds to bring back to California.
Back in Southern California, my cucuzza seeds thrived and in no time at all had overrun my garden and some of the surrounding canyon!  Practically overnight I had squash the size of baseball bats hanging throughout my garden and burgeoning squash leaves worthy of any Grimm’s fairy tale, scaling their way skyward up the canyon.  My uncle’s advice was to leave one cucuzza unpicked, allowing it to go to seed, then to harvest the seeds for the next planting season which I have done.
Cucuzza is prepared in several ways. In our area of Sicily, a dish that has a consistency between a soup and a stew is called a “ghiotta,” which is a popular preparation of cucuzza, utilizing onion, potato, tomato and basil. Another classic preparation is pasta with cucuzza and “tenerumi”.  Tenerumi refers to the tender shoots or tips of the cucuzza stalk, not the leaves as is often thought.  They are cut and if necessary can be peeled a bit at the stem. Pasta with cucuzza and tenerumi is truly one of the delights of Sicily and I highly recommend you try it if traveling there or if you happen to grow your own.  Join me next time as we learn to make these recipes.     
Until then,    
Ciao a presto!

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