Passing on the Seeds of a Sicilian
“So Dad, how will we pass on the tradition of growing the Cucuzza Squash?” I ask.
“What? How should we pass it on?…Just do it … It’s up to you,” my dad replied. Funny how this conversation with my dad reminds me of the just-do-it, no-nonsense approach my father has taken to life and raising his family.
To me, the Cucuzza Squash brings me to the heart of my childhood… to the soul of who I am and where I came from. And when prepared in a stew, it is so much more than a delicious dish…it’s food that says you are loved.
When my grandfather came to this country from Sicily, he brought seeds of this giant squash. He received the seeds from friends, as was the tradition. He then passed on the tradition to my father, who passed it to me with the following brief explanation “Go by the moon. You plant these when the moon is at least three quarters to full moon…. That’s the best time to plant… They just do better.” He also explained when to plant (usually late March or early April), how to keep the soil moist, how to have the plants grow up a trellis or wire, the best time to pick and “Don’t forget to leave one or two on the vine for the next season’s seed.”
A Cucuzza can feed an army of Italians and they grow 4-5 inches in a day. (I’ve heard claims they’ve grown up to 9 or 10 inches in a single day!)
Cooking for the Family
I was raised with four brothers and one sister. I started cooking at age seven, while my mom and dad worked. It started with, “Carmelo this is how you make soup… rosemary roasted chicken… stew… pasta.” All very short lessons and how-to’s which kicked me into creativity and studying the cooking of my grandmas and aunts. Every weekend as our families came together for traditional large Sicilian gatherings centered around food, music and card playing, I savored the tastes… noticed the methods of preparation and began to copy dishes at a very young age.
There are many ways of cooking this very ethnic cuisine. The traditional stew over your favorite pasta is the most common way to enjoy it. Other delicious methods are to fry the Cucuzza dipped into beaten eggs and dredged in either seasoned flour or breadcrumbs. Young, tender Cucuzza can be chopped, used in sautés and omelets…just tons of uses… let your imagination go!!
I’ve got one sitting on my counter now… Thanks Dad.
It is a light green color on the outside and has white flesh. I store it on the counter, not the refrigerator. If you leave the stem on, it will last a couple of weeks.
When I’m ready to prepare it, I take a potato peeler and remove the outer skin. The small squashes (those 16-18 inches long) have very tender edible seeds. The larger the Cucuzza have tougher seeds, which I’ll remove before preparing. If you can’t find these giant gems, you can substitute a Chinese squash. They have similar resilient texture that makes the Cucuzza so unlike a typical squash.
So when you see a large Cucuzza Squash, take one home and try making the Sicilian-Californian stew. You’ll have a dish that truly makes you feel loved.