This squash, the green leaves and magnificent sprigs of basil were a gift from a Sicilian friend: her father grew them in his garden. I feel very privileged to be given these precious vegetables. They are not a vegetable that can be easily sourced; I have seen them only once at a market in Melbourne.
In Sicilian this squash is called a cucuzza and in Italian I will call it a zucca lunga (long squash), which is what it is, a long serpent like squash. The tender leaves and tendrils of this plant are called tenerumiand I have written about these previously because both are typically loved by Sicilians and commonly used to make a refreshing summer soup (it could also be classified as a wet pasta dish).
The zucca tastes a little like zucchini (from the same family) and like all squashes it is a summer crop.
As a vegetable, this very long, pale green marrow is rather bland, but to a Sicilian it is referred to as delicate; it is the combinations of flavours that give this soup the unique, sweet, fresh taste – Sicilians say the soup is rinfrescante – refreshing and will reconstitute balance.
Unless you live in Sicily you are unlikely to be able to purchase these. Do not despair if you do not know a nice Sicilian who grows this produce – you can use zucchini and a greater amount of basil to make a similar soup – it will not be the same, but very pleasant.
See previous Posts:
According to Giuseppe Coria In Profumi di Sicilia, the origins of the simple soup are probably from Ragusa and the southeastern part of Sicily. Here it was (and maybe in some households it still is) made only with boiled squash, its leaves, broken spaghetti, seasoning and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
According to Coria, it is the people from Palermo who embellished the soup by adding garlic or onion, tomatoes and basil. And this is how I have always cooked it and eaten it in various places in Sicily.
It is not surprising that this is a soup much appreciated by Inspector Montalbano, the principal character in Andrea Camilleri’s books that have also been made into a successful television series – the stories are set in this very region.
There are variations on how this soup is made: some add a generous sprinkling of pecorino cheese at the end( especially in Palermo); others add red chillies during cooking and diced potatoes are also common in some parts of Sicily.
This time I cooked the soup differently than usual. There was more zucca – I used the produce I was given and I also made it in the same pot (in the other recipe which contains more tenerumi and less zucca, two pans are used).
The next day, we ate the leftovers as a cold soup; it was just as good….and as traditional. It is summer after all.
zucca lunga siciliana( mine was about 25 cms long)
1 large spring onion, sliced
2-3 tomatoes, roughly cut
3 cups of vegetable broth (I used a broth cube, optional) or water
fresh basil leaves, a good handful
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil,
1 cup of spaghetti (broken in small pieces)
Cut the zucca in half, get rid of the seeds and cube it.
Chop the tomatoes.
Sauté the onion in some olive oil for about 1 minute, add the zucca and continue to sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes.
Season with salt and pepper, add 2 cups of the stock, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the tenerumi, the rest of the stock and some of the basil; bring the contents to the boil.
Cook the pasta in the same pot; add the pasta and cook it until it is al dente.
Add more basil, a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil and serve.
I appreciate this soup’s fresh taste and only sprinkle only a few chilli flakes on top (or black pepper and I definitely do not use grated cheese; my Sicilian heritage is not from Palermo.