The giant zucchini spoke to me. It was lying across the table of my parents’ breakfast nook and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Dad got the plant from his Sicilian barber, and he and Mom planted it in the yard.
I admit that as a child, I turned up my nose at zucchini. Then, when I grew up, everything seemed to benefit from the little green squash: zucchini bread, chicken with grilled zucchini, spaghetti with onions, garlic, mushrooms and big chunks of zucchini in the sauce.
So that giant Sicilian zucchini cried out to me with its challenge. Could I cook it? Should I?
Mom said I could have it.
I got the vegetable home. The internet was invented for the moment you decide to cook a 49-inch, six-pound squash in your apartment kitchen. I began Googling recipes. And it turns out that this isn’t a zucchini at all: it’s an Italian cucuzza.
The going was pretty easy at first: I washed the narrowest end of the cucuzza and lopped it off for a gnocchi, zucchini, tomato and mozzarella bake. I peeled the tough skin and did not have to contend with any seeds in that end of the veggie. I adjusted the recipe with crumbled bacon and a couple big portobello mushroom caps, sliced.
It was delicious and lasted for a couple meals for two people. After the gnocchi bake was in the oven, the cucuzza looked like this:
After the gnocchi bake, it was still too early to declare victory over the cucuzza. But I knew success was possible if my determination didn’t falter. The next day, I made three loaves of zucchini walnut bread. The going got harder, because I began to hit the squash’s impressive cache of large, tough white seeds and had to remove them.
When enough cucuzza was shredded for a double recipe of zucchini bread, the veg looked like this:
Now that the cucuzza was cut almost down to the size of a regular zucchini, albeit a large one, I hit the chef’s equivalent of the runner’s wall. Hours of zucchini-related cooking had depleted my mind and body, and I turned to other, non-squash foods to try to regain my strength. Ultimately, I knew I had come too far to turn back.
I decided on my last recipe, making it up as I went along.
I went to a butcher and a produce stand in Reading Terminal Market and began with a stock of chicken bones, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and parsnips. Then I washed, peeled and chopped the remainder of the once-mighty squash, simmering it in chicken broth for an hour or so. I made a puree of the stock, squash and some sauteed onion and portobellos. Homemade garlic-butter croutons, a crumble of crispy bacon, a dusting of grated Parmesan and a dollop of sour cream finished it off.
And that, dear reader, is how I came to the end. Of the 49-inch cucuzza. As with any achievement of this magnitude, it’s impossible to measure how I’ve been changed by the journey after finishing the last of the soup only yesterday. But I do know that I’ve had enough squash for awhile.
Except for those Halloween pumpkins, dammit. Am I supposed to let them go to waste after the Trick-or-Treaters go to bed?
NOW I’m done with squash.
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