La cucuzza: a passion of Donna Nuzza
Cònsala comu voi sempri è cucuzza, Prov. ch’esprime la scipitezza di alcuna vivanda, quantunque vi si sieno impiegati i convenevoli condimenti, e le salse, e savori con la debita arte.Nuovo Dizionario Siciliano-Italiano. Vincenzo Mortillaro, Marchese di Villarena (1876)
Cucuzza is the sicilian name for zucchini. Not just any one, because sicilian cucuzza is mainly the long snake courgette, to say it in Sicilian dialect, the one of the tinnarumi. Zucchini is tender and velvety as fabric, and I find it has an irresistible aroma of sea. Maybe that’s why it goes well with some seafood, such as sea urchins and mussels.
Outside Sicily (and if I am not mistaken of Calabria) it is very difficult to find long zucchini and tinnarumi (also called talli, but not in the popular and historical markets) and their delicious summer soups which, as grandmothers and aunts say, “refreshes your stomach”. It seems a contradictory expression, since the soup is hot, but it is actually right: in the end, you will fell refreshed. An ancient folk wisdom, probably of Tuareg inspiration, says that the heat is fought with the heat.
So even if cucuzza is a derogatory term, we Sicilians (especially westerners) are madly in love with it. This feeling is only apparently inexplicable, since our ancestors even in critical conditions tried to create delicious dishes. In order to use zucchini, a plant with such a sweet and delicate taste, almost neutral, they invented some simple dishes that have become a full part of our tradition. I dare to say exclusive dishes, because we are the only ones who cook and eat them, and probably because it is easy to find the raw material.
My brother and I have been used since childhood to eat many vegetables without the need to camouflage them in something else. One of our favorite dishes was (and still is) boiled zucchini, topped with a thread of oil. The broth that is created in cooking is irresistible if eaten with a toasted bread, but also to drink, hot or cold. The adults, on the other hand, preferred it in the form of soup, with a final sprinkling of salted ricotta.
I don’t like cheese, and maybe that held me back. But, avoiding the ricotta, as the years passed I fell madly in love with this soup, which I personally love cold, even right out of refrigerator (which is not true for any other dish).
During summer evenings, in the long and crowded tables, it often happened to find the cucuzza longa soup, for the joy of all! This is the recipe of those evenings, the recipe of the women of my life. Good and simple cooks who have raised me with good things, cooked with the ingredient of love.
Ingredients (for 4 people)
- 1 long zucchini
- 2 yellow potatoes
- 1 white onion
- 1 clove of crushed garlic
- A piece of chili pepper
- 4 tomatoes (the type for the sauce)
- A handful of basil leaves
- Grated salted ricotta (optional)
- Hot water (as necessary)
- Evo oil (as necessary)
- Salt and black pepper (as necessary)
Wash the tomatoes, slice them and boil for a few seconds in boiling water. Soon after pass them in cold water, peel them and remove the seeds, then cut them into small pieces.
Slice finely the onion and saute it over low heat in a saucepan (large) with plenty of oil, garlic and chilli pepper.
It’s time to peel the zucchini and cut it into small pieces. Repeat the same operation with the potatoes and keep it all aside.
When the onion is soft and transparent, it will be well cooked. Now add the drained tomatoes of their water and brown them for a few minutes. Remove the garlic and brown the potatoes for a few seconds, then add the zucchini and let them brown. Add a little salt and, finally, boiling water. Cover the vegetables in half, the zucchini will expel more water and you will have a delicious broth. Put the lid on and cook for about 30 minutes. After the first quarter of an hour stir and control the cooking.
Before serving let it rest in a uncovered pot (as I said it is also good cold, whether it is room temperature or from the fridge). Salt enough, add a ground pepper and chop, with your hands, plenty of basil.
Serve it on the table with the salted ricotta for those who like it and abundant homemade bread, also toasted.
Light and good, p’arrifriscarsi e arricriarisi.
“Buon appetito” in the sign of ancient tradition and family warmth.