Tag Archives: cucuzza

The family stew

30 Sep

I’d like you all to meet two of my favorite people in the whole world. The handsome one (on the right) is my aunt Laura. The not-so-pretty one with the glasses? That’s my cousin John, her son.

Laura (aka “Queen of Doughnuts“) can make me laugh without ever speaking, and when she does speak her words are what “proper” people often refer to as “colorful.” She is also one of my go-to consigliere in matters of traditional family recipes, and so Laura and I have talked a lot on the phone through the years, often while working in our kitchens.

I love my aunt a whole lot.

John makes me laugh too. His language (like mine, I’ll admit) is a lot like his mother’s. So are his kitchen skills. My cousin and I have always been close. As younger men we engaged in dangerous activities together, doing (let’s face it, John) idiotic things that could have gotten us hurt or shuttled to a place upstate where they don’t know from an aglio e olio. Even though we have grown older and more mellow, my cousin and I continue to seek each other out. This makes me happy.

Because I love him a whole lot too.

I haven’t actually seen my aunt or my cousin since early in the summer, and yet they have been with me in my kitchen a lot these past couple of weeks. The “googootz” in my garden (best you click here for an explanation) have been plentiful this season; I have been cooking with them a lot. Nobody digs the ‘gootz more that these two do. I can’t lay eyes on one of the odd-looking Sicilian squash without thinking of Laura and John. Just isn’t possible. Believe me, I’ve been at this a long time.

If it weren’t for them, in fact, our family’s oldest stew might long ago have been forgotten. They’re the only two people I know who will not allow a single summer to pass without preparing at least a couple pots full of giambottaGiambotta is an Italian vegetable stew but when using googootz (all right, the squash’s actual name is cucuzza) my family has always added chicken. I don’t know why that is. Neither do any of them. I’ve asked.

Anyhow, I posted the recipe for my giambotta some time ago now, but since these two relations of mine have been so much on my mind of late, I decided to allow them to share theirs. Googootz are not very easy to find (here’s a link to the cucuzza plantation in Louisiana where most of those you’ll find in the U.S. come from). If you can’t get your hands on a googootz, I suppose a couple large zucchini will work just fine. They just won’t be nearly as much fun.

Here’s a taste of the stew, by the way.

And here are my handsome relatives again, just about to cook up a new batch.

I wish that I were with them. But am guessing that maybe I am.

Laura & John’s Giambotta

1 chicken breast quartered
1 medium onion (vidalia) sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
4-5 carrots, sliced in good-sized chunks
2 celery stalks & their leaves, sliced
1-2 potatoes, chunked
1-2 googootz (squash)
Water or chicken broth to cover
Salt, pepper, oregano, basil, hot pepper flakes to taste
A diced fresh tomato or two if you like

Cut squash into 4″-6″ lengths, then peel, seed and cut into chunks
Brown chicken in olive oil, then add onions and cook until tender
Add squash, carrots, celery, potatoes, garlic
Cover with water or broth (add more during cooking, if needed), bring to boil, then lower to a simmer and add salt, pepper, herbs
Cook partially covered for 30-40 minutes
Check water level during cooking (it should be not quite a soup, more like a stew in consistency)

A word from John: This recipe is good for 2 hungry eaters. But giambotta is even better the next day, and so I always up the ingredients and make extra.

A word from Laura: Shut up and eat already, would you please!

The Googootz: Part II

15 Sep

Where were we?

Right. Time to cook the cucuzza.
As I explained when last we met, use a cucuzza (Hell, we’re all friends here, you can just call it “googootz.”) as you would a squash.
First thing you should know is that the skin can be quite hard and so it must always be peeled, never eaten. Sounds easy, but it isn’t always. If you’re lucky to score a soft-skinned googootz a peeler should do the trick, but often as not it will require a sturdy knife. I’d suggest cutting the cucuzza into six- or eight-inch sections and then peeling away the skin. Safer that way.
The soft core on the inside, the part with the seeds, must also be removed. After which you can go ahead and slice, dice, shred, whatever you like.
Hey, do what you want, it’s your googootz!
In the past week I’ve made four different dishes: an appetizer, a pasta course, a main and even a dessert.

Fried cucuzza sticks I have to say, these were really terrific. All’s I did was roll some pieces in cornmeal seasoned with salt and pepper and fry them in olive oil until crisp. The crunchy outside was a perfect match for the cucuzza, which, now that I think of it, has a kind of creamy texture when it’s cooked.

Strozzapretti alla cucuzza Here we have the obligatory red sauce, only with the one addition. It’s how a lot of my people prepare their googootz. And it’s good. One thing, though: Unless you want the cucuzza turning to mush, I’d suggest adding it after the sauce has finished cooking, then simmering for just another few minutes.

Giambotta This is an Italian vegetable stew, but when my family makes giambotta with googootz we always add chicken, which I guess makes it a chicken stew. This is a special kind of dish; summers just wouldn’t be the same without at least one giambotta. I’ve got my recipe below. It’s worth trying, at least once.

Cucuzza ricotta cheesecake I’m not a baker. And don’t know what possessed me. All I’ll say is that, despite my best efforts to screw it up, this cake turned out really good. Good enough that I’ve included the recipe below. Be warned: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here, so proceed with caution — and change whatever you want. Please.


Googootz & eggs Hey, I was looking for an easy lunch and this did the trick. You got a better idea?
Makes 4 servings
1 googootz (peeled, cored and diced into 2-inch pieces)
1 red onion
1 carrot
8-10 garlic cloves (fine, use less, see if I care)
Piece of pancetta (or bacon or proscuitto), diced
Olive oil
Fresh rosemary and oregano
Hot pepper to taste
2 or so cups white or blush wine
4 chicken thighs
Saute the onions, garlic, carrots, pancetta, hot pepper and herbs in olive oil until tender. Add the chicken thighs (skin down), season with salt and black pepper and simmer at medium heat for 15 minutes.
Add the wine (use more if it doesn’t cover the thighs) and simmer for 45 minutes.
Remove thighs. When cool, remove skin, pull the meat from the bones and return meat to the pot. Add googootz slices and simmer for 15 minutes.
Let it all cool down, then toss it in the fridge overnight and have something else for dinner.
Giambotta is always better the next day.
Cucuzza ricotta cheesecake
1 googootz (peeled, cored, roasted until most of its moisture has evaporated, then finely diced or run through a food processor)

1 lb ricotta
3 eggs
1/4 cup diced citron
1/4 cup unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
Mix everything together in a bowl, then pour into a 10-inch baking pan.
Cook at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes.
Refrigerate after it cools and eat it cold.
For some reason, I don’t know why, it’s better this way.

The Googootz

8 Sep

Calm down, it’s just a squash.
My people call it “googootz.” So do I.
Louis Prima sang about it. Old-time Italian-Americans, if they are very fond of you, might refer to you as it. (“Hey, googootz! Siddown, have a glass of wine with me!”)
It is, in fact, a cucuzza, technically a gourd but used as a squash.
Size? Big. I’ve seen six footers.
Origin? Said to be southern Italy.
Due to its, er, shape, it is sometimes referred to as the “Serpent of Sicily.”
Yes, of course it is.
Anyway, simple as they are to grow, I have never had much luck growing googootz here in Maine. And so this year, inspired by cousin John’s enormous ability to coax the beauties to life under the most trying conditions, I decided to give the crop just one more shot.
This, by the way, is John. You can see why I might be inspired by such a man, yes?
And so in late spring, to the horror of my fellow community gardeners (not you Ann), I built a big trellis out of cedar so that my googootz, should they arrive, might have a place to climb and to grow. With an able assist from my dear cousin, I had gathered not one but four different seed packets — all from sources in Italy — thinking this would surely increase my chances for success. After the seeds were planted in the ground I sat down next to the trellis, dialed John in New York on my cell, and asked him to please summon his very best shaman prayer to bless the summer growing season, which he did graciously, if with a bit of sarcasm.

And I no longer have trouble growing googootz in the State of Maine.
Recipes? They’re coming; just not today.
That’s all for now. Take us out, boys.