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.

Family Recipe Friday – Dora’s Fava Beans

Happy Days! We made it to Sicily!

My husband’s family is from Sicily and he has always wanted to go. Finally, we had an excuse greater than just wishes – a cousin was getting married – and we just couldn’t pass up this great opportunity. The groom and his mother are related to my husband through his Morales side of the family.

We enjoyed some wonderful family time, and Dora, the groom’s mother, cooked for us several times. What a treat! The first meal she prepared for us was this appetizer and some delicious risotto with artichokes from the garden of the bride’s father. Yum!


IMG_3925About the third time Dora fed us, I realized I was missing out by just eating the food, so I offered to help her in the kitchen and hopefully learn from her. While “we” cooked, I took some pictures – hoping to have a photo recipe for later. Easier and faster than writing! Then I posted the photos on Facebook with instructions accompanying the photos. I think it worked pretty well. I may have missed a few directions here and there, but they are replicable, and certainly better than relying on my poor memory.

My first photo recipe is for fava beans. I had only known fava beans as a large dried bean that my husband’s Sicilian-American family says are for good luck. Legend has it that the hearty fava bean fed Sicilians (and/or their livestock) during an extreme drought. One carries a dried fava bean in a pocket or wallet for good luck.

Anna Tasca Lanza, in her book “The Heart of Sicily: Recipes and Remembrances of Regaleali,” writes:

The very first fava beans appear on the table on March 19, the feast of San Giuseppe. These young beans are very tender, crisp, and juicy, and we eat them raw, sometimes with pecorino cheese. More often, though, we serve them with the fresh fruit basket that is placed on the table at the end of every meal.

The season for favas lasts quite a long time – through May – which is probably why we have so many ways of preparing them.

I had never seen (noticed?) fava beans at the grocery store, but a week or so after we returned from Sicily, my husband saw them at Whole Foods and brought some home… and I had a recipe!

My husband wasn’t sure how many beans to buy and we ended up with a lot fewer than what Dora prepared. I just proportionately cut back on ingredients as I was cooking. I have no measurements for you.

When I showed a friend some photos of my trip, she wasn’t very impressed when I told her about the fava beans. Then she saw this pic of Dora’s husband holding one he was shelling. They are a pretty big bean! They are also called Broad Beans and Horse Beans.

Here is my photo recipe from Dora’s kitchen and some pics from my preparations here at home.

Shell the beans. There will be a little bump on one end of the beans and Dora took those off, so I did too. This is what you will have.

Grate a small onion into a pot and add a good portion of olive oil. Saute just until tender.

Add fava beans, stir a few times, add water to cover. Add some salt. Bring to a boil. Dora put a little pot of water on another burner so she would have hot water to add as needed. Why have I never thought to do that?

Dora said to simmer about 30 minutes and she used a pressure cooker lid to finish the beans off quickly. I cooked mine close to an hour. Give the beans a stir every so often, add hot water as needed,  and check for doneness.

Dora’s finished fava beans.

By comparison, my beans do not look as fresh from the beginning. They are pale. Dora bought and cooked her beans on the same day and they were grown locally. Mine, on the other hand, sat in my refrigerator a few days before I cooked them and I don’t know where they were grown. And you can see we barely had enough for two servings. 🙁

My finished beans – again don’t look as fresh and pretty as Dora’s. Plus I chopped my onion instead of grating.

But – they tasted good.

I’ll keep my eye out for fava beans next spring!

I have had the opportunity to prepare the other photo recipes I got from Dora, so I’ll be sharing them in future posts.