Back when I lived in New Jersey and Long Island, we were surrounded by lottsa fellow Italian-Americans. I don’t know what the East coast version of Spanglish is, but we sure peppered our conversations with a crazy mixture of Italian and Yiddish words. For years I thought the Italian word for bathroom was bacahowz!
One summer, a friend would bring me these giant green squash from his garden. My hearing being what it is (or isn’t) and the fact that most Italians I knew would drop the last vowel in Italian words (ricotta was pronounced rigaught) I thought the name for this Zucchini-type squash, was gagootz. Sometimes we would call someone who was always hanging around doing nothing, a big gagootz! (It was usually said in an endearing way, as in, Don’t be such a big gagootz and go mow the lawn!) And given the phallic shape of these veggies, we also used this word to describe an exceptionally endowed penis. But, like bacahowz, I never actually saw this word in print and it faded from my vocabulary after leaving Jersey and Long Island.
When I started growing vegetables here in San Diego, I recalled those mega zucchinis and tried to find seeds for the elusive gagootz, to no avail. Until this spring, when I noticed that one of the miscellaneous seedlings given to me by Brijette Peña, of San Diego Seed Company, was labeled cuzzuzi. She explained that she wasn’t sure of the spelling, but she was told it was a long green Italian squash. Could this be the mysterious gagootz?
I did a Google search for cuzzuzi and came up with cucuzza – the Italian word for zucchini (as if zucchini doesn’t sound Italian enough!) Ah, but photos for the cucuzza looked a lot like the plant my friend had gifted to me over 30 years ago. So I planted the seedling in my arbor, eager to see what would turn up.
Fast forward two months. The mystery squash literally took over my arbor, crowding out even the prolific spaghetti squash. Pictured is a 38” beauty I recently harvested! And compared to the specimens I remember from Long Island, this is not fully grown. It looks like the mystery of the gagootz has been solved!
The Cucuzza is really a fascinating squash. Unlike it’s cousins, it has a white flower that opens at night and is pollinated by moths. So, although I had dozens of long finger-sized fruits hanging from the arbor, few actually turned into squash that I could harvest. Like other squash/gourds, if the female flower isn’t fertilized, the fruit is a dud. It’s easy to solve this problem by hand pollinating other squash that open in the morning, but I wasn’t going to go outside in the middle of the night to pollinate anything. Apparently, my local moths felt the same way. But the ones they got turned out to be doozies!
As per instructions online, I harvested these zucchinis-on-steroids while they were still only about 1” thick, so they could be prepared like their distant zucchini cousins. The 38” one made three meals! I sliced it into ½” rounds and sautéed with sweet onions and garlic, adding some freshly harvested chopped chard, basil, oregano and parsley. One night I served this over pasta, and another night I put it over spaghetti squash for the dynamic squash duo pictured.
If you wait to pick them when they are thicker, you can do what I used to do back in Long Island when my gardener friend thought bigger is better. I’d slice the gourd in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, stuff them with sausage, tomatoes and cheese and bake until your kitchen is hotter than hell, but the whole house smells like you died and went to Sicily. You’d serve this variation sliced into portions that your family and guests will scoop out of the skin, which, like some of us, gets tough when it’s old and plump.
So as we Italians say, Mangia! And however you spell it, don’t be a big gagootz!