You not only have to be Italian to know what this is, but you also have to have Sicilian roots.
It’s a Sicilian squash called a Cucuzza (pronounced ku-koo-za), or more popularly, in Sicilian dialect, gagootz or gagootza.
My mother’s side of the family is northern Italian and in asking my mother this morning if she’d heard of this vegetable, she had not – nor do I remember my grandmother planting it in her magical garden.
My father’s mother was Sicilian but she died when I was in high school and was not well for many years before that so I have very few recollections of her cooking – black squid ink spaghetti sauce and chocolate rice pudding (my dad’s favorite!) but never heard her mention cucuzza.
Back to my cucuzza. It was a gift, yes another gift, from the two men who run an auto shop near my son’s shop – two of the sweetest old Italian men you’d ever want to know, one of whom gardens like a fiend and kept me in tomatoes this summer and thought I’d like a gagootz for the weekend.
Hey, I’ll take it even though I haven’t a clue what to do with it! (okay, you, with your mind in the gutter, keep it clean here!)
Who knew the veggie was popular enough for Louis Prima to sing about it?? I didn’t, even though I grew up listening to Louis Prima and Keeley Smith.
There seems to be one definitive website about Sicilian cooking called Sicily: Cuisine, Culture and tradition written by Rosetta Sciacca and it’s there I found a recipe for cucuzza stew – with the squash, potatoes and onions etc. Pretty much what I call good old healthy peasant food that I grew up eating made by my grandmother – Food from the earth. No cans. No jars. It’s no wonder that the Mediterranean cultures live so long – they don’t eat anything processed.
I’ll try making something with this today but first I have to get that damn Louis Prima song out of my head. Darn, it’s stuck there.