Inventory, 20 lbs : 0
Cucuzza is a long and slender gourd that grows on a leafy climbing vine. The gourds vary in length, depending on when they are harvested, and can grow from 38 to 91 centimeters in length and 6 to 7 centimeters in diameter. It is recommended to harvest the gourds at 20 to 30 centimeters in length for the best texture and flavor. Depending on cultivation methods, Cucuzza gourds also have an unusual cylindrical appearance, growing long and straight or twisting and contorting into irregular shapes. Most gourds will be straight to slightly curved if grown on trellises. The skin is semi-thin, hard, and tough, considered inedible, and is pale green when young, darkening to a yellow-brown hue with maturity. Underneath the surface, the white to ivory flesh is firm, succulent, and crisp, containing many seeds. The seeds are edible when young but become hard and unpleasant with maturity. Cucuzza should be smooth, pale green, and bruise-free with the stem still attached when selected for culinary use, a feature that will help prolong the gourd’s shelf life. Cucuzza has a mild, sweet, and subtly nutty flavor, reminiscent of the texture and taste of zucchini.
Cucuzza is available in the mid-summer through late fall.
Cucuzza, botanically classified as Lagenaria siceraria, is an heirloom Italian variety belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. Despite their main moniker including the descriptor “squash,” Cucuzza is actually a type of gourd that forms on fast-growing vines reaching up to seven meters in length. Cucuzza vines are a climbing species extending across trellises and fences and feature leafy foliage that often conceals the elongated gourds. Though Cucuzza is botanically a gourd, it is primarily used as a summer squash and is colloquially called a squash, incorporated into a wide array of cooked preparations. Cucuzza gourds, leaves, and young shoots are edible and have a mild, sweet, and subtly vegetal flavor. In southern Italy, Cucuzza is a staple ingredient in summer preparations, and the gourds are sometimes known as Zuzza, Suzza melon, and Cucuzzi in markets. Over time, the plants were spread worldwide through Italian immigrants and became a specialty home garden crop in warm regions, including the United States. The vining plant has historically been a communal species, as its fast-growing and prolific nature encourages gardeners to share seeds, gourds, and cuttings with family and friends. Cucuzza is not commercially cultivated and is localized to home gardens and specialty growers.
Cucuzza is a source of fiber to regulate the digestive tract and vitamin C to strengthen the immune system while reducing inflammation. The gourds also provide some calcium to build strong bones and teeth, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, and contain other nutrients, including manganese, iron, and magnesium. In Italy, the gourds and the leaves of the Cucuzza vine have been traditionally used to aid in digestion and soothe upset stomachs.
Cucuzza has a neutral, sweet, and faintly nutty flavor well suited for cooked preparations. The gourds retain their semi-firm texture in recipes and can be used in recipes calling for summer squash. Cooking also brings out the sweetness in the flesh. The gourds must be peeled before use, and younger versions can be lightly sauteed, fried, or grilled with other vegetables as a savory side dish. Cucuzza can also be sliced, tossed in olive oil, parmesan, and breadcrumbs and baked, halved and stuffed, or incorporated into casseroles. If the gourds are slightly older, slow-roasting, pureeing, or simmering will soften the flesh, commonly incorporated into stews, soups, and curries or tossed into pasta. In Sicily, Cucuzza is a staple culinary ingredient and is popularly candied to make zuccata, used in marzipan cookies and cassata cake. It is also used in pasta with tenerumi, a Sicilian dish using gourds and leaves. Cucuzza pairs well with tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, fennel, white beans, aromatics such as garlic, shallots, and onions, citrus, herbs including mint, basil, and parsley, bitter greens, cream-based sauces, meats such as lamb, roasted poultry, and sausage, and cheeses including mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan. Whole, unwashed Cucuzza should be wrapped in plastic and used within a few days of purchase or harvest. The gourds can also be cut into slices, blanched, and frozen in a freezer bag for extended use.
In Italy, Cucuzza is also known as “Goo-gootz” or “Googootz,” a slang term used to describe the elongated vegetables. This nickname is often used in Italian markets for various types of squash, but it is used chiefly to describe Cucuzza squashes. “Googootz” is also a term of endearment. The word essentially means “big squash” but is generally used to describe a close friend or loved one. “Googootz” was famously used in the final episode of a once-popular show in the United States known as The Sopranos. Tony Soprano, the protagonist and mafia boss in the show, asks his wife Carmela, "Where's Googootz?" in reference to his son. Cucuzza was also featured in the 1950s song “My Cucuzza,” an ode to famous Italian singer Louis Prima’s love, using the illusion that his lady is just as sweet as the squash.
Cucuzza is a descendant of ancient bottle gourds first discovered in Africa. Over time, the gourds were introduced to the Mediterranean region, where Cucuzza was cultivated through natural breeding. The variety was embraced as a food source in the Mediterranean, especially in southern Italy and Sicily. Later in history, Italian immigrants settled along the east coast of the United States, establishing communities and planting saved seeds from Italy in their home gardens. Cucuzza was a traditional crop in Italy and was a favored gourd, shared among family and friends throughout Italian neighborhoods. Today Cucuzza has been spread worldwide through seed catalogs and is a specialty cultivar, thriving in warm climates. The gourds are primarily found in home gardens, but they are also offered through select growers and farmers markets in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Recipes that include Cucuzza Squash. One is easiest, three is harder.