Family Recipe Friday – Dora’s Cucuzza

On our recent trip to Sicily for a family wedding, I got to spend some time in the kitchen with the groom’s mother, Dora. They are cousins to my husband. I’ve been having fun trying out the recipes here at home! Today’s recipe is for cucuzza.

Most of the Sicilian-Americans I know (my husband’s family and assorted cousins from Houston), have a sentimental attachment to cucuzza and some even take it upon themselves to grow it. A few will admit that they have never really liked it all that much, even as they take a serving of the giant squash that one of them grew and someone prepared just like their nana did.

We happened to be in Sicily when cucuzza were available in the markets and Dora prepared it for lunch one day. I made sure to be in the kitchen to help. I had a feeling I would like Dora’s cucuzza. And I did.

Soon after we returned from Sicily, cousin Anthony gifted us with cucuzza that he grew this spring. We had a family dinner at a local Italian restaurant and picked up our share. This year I had Dora’s recipe, so I was not intimidated!

Here are our giant cucuzza!

Below you can see Dora peeling and chopping the squash she prepared. They were not nearly as big. And they were easy to peel with a potato peeler.

Anthony grew more than one variety of cucuzza. The first one I used was easy to peel; even though it was large, it was not tough. The second time I made the recipe, I used a different variety and my peeler didn’t make a dent! If you click on the photo, you can see what little impact my peeler made on it. I had to bring out the big knife for this thick-skinned giant.


As with the other recipes I learned from Dora, I didn’t always get exact measurements, so I just did what seemed right and made adjustments based on the size of the squash I was using. One of my cucuzza surely equalled more than two of her cucuzza. If I thought I was cooking more squash than she did, I added another potato and a large can of tomatoes. Following is what I photographed in Sicily with the notes I took:

Peel and quarter two cucuzza. Cut out most of the seeds; chop. Peel and chop 3 potatoes.

Grate onion (about 1/2 c.) and sauté in a good bit of olive oil. Add chopped vegetables and salt; stir.

Add crushed tomatoes and some water. Bring to boil; reduce heat to simmer. I think she added oregano, so I did.

Simmer until veggies are tender and sauce has cooked down – about 20 minutes.
Serve with pasta and good Sicilian cheese – which, of course, I did not have. She used dry ricotta.

It was really good.

As I have learned from my new Sicilian relatives, the type of pasta you use is extremely important and Dora said that this short tube pasta is what is needed. Well, I didn’t go buy the correct pasta, and instead used some cool-shaped pasta I had impulsively purchased a couple of weeks before. I have to admit, her pasta looked and tasted better.

The truth is, pasta isn’t even necessary. The second time I made this recipe, we just ate it like soup. Delicious! To me, the addition of potato makes this better than the other cucuzza I’ve eaten. It seems to add a bit of sweetness and texture.

I’ll be making it again next year if Anthony is still in the cucuzza growing business!

Dora’s Cucuzza

2 medium cucuzza
3 medium potatoes
1/2 cup grated onion
olive oil
14.5 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1-2 teaspoons oregano
pasta – optional

Peel and quarter cucuzza. Cut out seeds; chop. Peel and chop 3 potatoes. Grate onion and sauté in a good bit of olive oil until soft. Add chopped vegetables and salt to taste; stir. Add crushed tomatoes, a half can of water, and oregano. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until veggies are tender and sauce has cooked down – about 20 minutes.
Serve with pasta and grated cheese.

You might also like Dora’s recipes for fava beans and rice patties.

Family Recipe Friday – Dora’s Rice Patties (Polpette di Riso?)

On our recent trip to Sicily for a family wedding, I got to spend some time in the kitchen with the groom’s mother, Dora. They are cousins to my husband. I’ve been having fun trying out the recipes here at home! If you missed it, the first recipe was for Fava Beans. In the photo below you can see the fava beans served with some rice patties.

I offered to help Dora in the kitchen and hopefully learn from her. While “we” cooked, I took some pictures – hoping to have a photo recipe for later, then posted the photos on Facebook with instructions accompanying the photos. I think my system worked pretty well. I missed a few directions here and there, but they were replicable.

Cousin Stella says they use the word “polpette” for these – even though the shape is not round like a meatball – so let’s call them Polpette di Riso (and hope that makes sense, because I don’t speak any Italian or Sicilian!). This is Dora’s grandmother’s recipe. Dora’s mother made these for her when she was a child and she made them for her kids. Just something simple to use up leftovers – comfort food. It reminded me of the potato patties my mom and grandmother made to use up leftover mashed potatoes.

Stir 3-4 eggs into leftover rice. Unfortunately, I did not ask Dora the proportions at the time. I used approximately 1 egg per 3/4 cup of rice. In a follow-up call to Dora, she said to use 1 egg per 50 g of rice – which would be about 1/4 cup. Somewhere in there is the sweet spot! I substituted brown rice because that’s what I had left over.

Add salt to taste, and a few raisins and pine nuts. I don’t know if we can get the little package of pine nut and raisin mix in the U. S. The raisins were a really small variety. Again, I made substitutions. I didn’t have pine nuts, so I chopped a few almonds.

Add some bread crumbs, grated Sicilian cheese (I think Dora used Ricotta Salata), some small pieces of fresh mozzarella, and a little baking soda. You want a consistency that is wet, but will hold together.

I did not notice that Dora let the mixture rest for 10 minutes to let the baking soda work. Now I know and I will do that next time. Shape into a ball/patty on a table spoon and cook in hot olive oil. (I’m not very good at taking a picture with one hand holding a spoon.)

Turn to brown both sides.

Here are mine draining on paper towels.

They were yummy!

We were very lucky that Dora insisted on sending some Ricotta Salata home with us! She had a vacuum sealer and we put the vacuum sealed cheese in a suitcase and off we went! The cheese was made by someone she knows in Mezzojuso. It was good while it lasted. Unfortunately, not long enough!

Dora’s Rice Patties/Polpette di Riso

3 cups leftover cooked rice
4-5 eggs
salt to taste
tablespoon or more chopped pine nuts and small raisins
grated Ricotta Salata
fresh mozzarella
bread crumbs
pinch of baking soda.

Mix together all ingredients. Begin with a couple of eggs to your rice. If it is very dry, add another egg. You will be adding breadcrumbs and cheese, so adjust until you have a wet consistency, but not soupy. Let mixture rest for 10 minutes. Shape into balls on a table spoon. Slide the rice patty off spoon into hot olive oil. Brown; turn to brown other side. Drain off excess oil with paper towel.

A Visit to the Capitol – Past and Present

One Friday morning in July, I paid a visit to the state Capitol. There were some important bills being heard in committee that day, so my friend M F and I headed out to do our civic duty and register our opinions. 

After completing our task, we walked around a bit to reminisce. We both worked at the Capitol years ago, but not at the same time.

Portraits of all the former governors of Texas hang in the rotunda. I stopped for a photo with my favorite former governor and asked Ann to haunt the building as needed during this “special” session. 😉

Many years ago, I worked during an interim for Senator Lindon Williams (R-Houston). My father-in-law helped me obtain this much-needed job and I was thankful to have it. I’m trying to remember the exact chain of events… I think I first worked at a preschool during the year between college and graduate school. If that is correct, I must have worked for the Senator during the summer after my first year of grad school. Since it was a part-time job, it’s possible I continued to work into the fall.

Since I worked during the interim, there was not a lot of excitement. I mostly did filing and answered phones and worked on mailings. Sometimes there was nothing for me to do except be a warm body in case the phone rang or someone came by the office, so I think I even did a little crafting. I have a vague memory of two specific Christmas decorations and being in that office. Maybe I just brought in some of the Christmas crafting I was working on to show the Administrative Assistant. I no longer remember.

The walls of the lowest level of the Capitol are hung with “class” photos of former members of the legislature. Below, Senator Williams is pictured right there above my hand.

M F worked for Senator Farabee – fourth from the bottom right above Senator Williams. On his left is Senator Lloyd Doggett. When we eventually joined the church we now attend, I remember that he and his family sat up in the left side balcony of the church. Lloyd Doggett is now a U.S. Representative from Texas. He recently held a town hall meeting in our church Family Life Center. I served as a hospitality representative from the church to assist those in attendance. Getting to sit in on the town hall was a nice benefit.

The Texas Capitol has been remodeled since the time of our employment, but M F and I wandered around, looking for the familiar. M F pointed out that many original features of the building remain although functions have changed. An etched window above a door still identifies the Treasury Office, for example, even though that office is no longer in the building. Even the hinges on the doors are beautiful and detailed. M F has a framed rubbing of one.

It was nice walking around the Capitol with a friend who once worked there and is also a history buff. She didn’t mind at all that I wanted to walk around the grounds on this very hot day to see the newest monument – The Texas African American History Memorial. It traces the history of African Americans in Texas from the 1500s to the present. M F could name several of the figures without reading the plaques! Impressive! My knowledge of Texas history is limited. I didn’t arrive in Texas until I was a junior in high school, so I never studied Texas history.

The center of the monument depicts Juneteenth in Texas: June 19, 1865 – when African Americans in Texas received the news of the end of slavery.

The monument was unveiled November 19, 2016. It is really quite impressive and moving – especially recognizing that black slave labor was integral in building the Capitol building that sits behind this monument. It is unfortunate that a “White Lives Matter” protest was also scheduled on the Capitol grounds the morning of the unveiling (the group insisted it was a coincidence) and there was also a counter protest to the protest. 🙁

We were getting really hot, so I didn’t take the time for a photo of the back side. This video provides some compelling close ups and a view of the back.

It was also my first time to view the  Tejano Monument. It didn’t draw me in emotionally in the same way as the African American History Memorial, but it is well done. I especially like the setting of the statues on the native granite boulders.

I posted some of these photos from my day to Facebook and several friends chimed in. One friend said her great-grandfather’s photo also hangs in the lower level where I stood by the Senator’s photograph. Another friend worked for Lloyd Doggett. Another friend said her aunt was friends with Lindon Williams and she remembered talking to him. She thinks her aunt tried to get him to fix a speeding ticket for her, but it didn’t happen. She paid her ticket herself. I felt like we were playing a game of 7 degrees of Lindon Williams!

I haven’t spent much time at the Capitol since I worked there – just a couple of tours with out-of-town friends or a school field trip. This year, however, I have had occasion to visit several times.

1/16 -MLK Jr. March. 1/21- Women’s March.


1/31- Standing as a Peaceful Observer to protect Muslim neighbors on Muslim Capitol Day.  2/25 – No Ban, No Wall rally. And there have been a couple more.


I am thankful to live where I have easy access to my state government and can participate in a variety of ways in the democratic process and the vibrant life of this community.

We have a beautiful Capitol filled with history. It is well worth a tour and a celebration of the diversity that makes Texas, Texas.