Creole-Italian Baked Cucuzza

Cucuzza Squash

Creole-Italian Baked Cucuzza

“Hey googootz!”

If you grew up in New Orleans, chances are you’ve heard that phrase or have been the recipient of that term of endearment. I’m not sure how much it’s used these days, but when I was little it was expressed often and usually by older women addressing relatives or close friends. Oh, and you may also recognize the word if you were a Sopranos fan. I never watched the show, but have learned that Tony occasionally called his son A.J. “Googootz.” The word stems from cucuzza (pronounced “ku koo za”), an edible Italian gourd that’s treated like a squash in the kitchen. This heirloom veggie found its way to New Orleans many moons ago via Sicilian immigrants and it’s been growing on trellised vines in backyard gardens ever since. The cucuzza pictured below is the one I cooked for this recipe. Isn’t it gorgeous? I have my dear friend Cathy to thank for that. It came from her garden. That generous act of sharing is still prevalent among the locals. One of the many things I love about our City!

Cucuzza Squash

A large cucuzza growing on a vine.

A cucuzza is characterized by its pale green skin and long, cylindrical shape–which can easily exceed three feet in length. It has a firm, mild flesh and a pretty long growing season (mid-summer until the first frost). These two factors contribute to its dual personality as both a summer squash and a winter squash. As such, cucuzza can be prepared all sorts of ways. I like it best cooked down with Italian sausage and fiery tomatoes then baked to bubbly perfection with breads crumbs and Parmesan cheese. It’s also delicious paired with shellfish, added to soups and stews, fried and even shredded in salads and slaws (after it’s been peeled and seeded). If cucuzza is not available in your area, you can actually order it online from The Cordaro Cucuzza Plantation in Ruston, Louisiana.

Creole-Italian Baked Cucuzza Recipe

Print Recipe

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1 large cucuzza (about 36-inches long)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 14.5-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
Salt and pepper

Prepare cucuzza.  Cut off and discard ends and cut crosswise into three manageable pieces. Remove skin with a vegetable peeler, cut each piece lengthwise and scoop out the seeds (reserve for planting in the spring). Chop into bite-size pieces and set aside.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions and cook until tender, 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes more.  Add sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a potato masher or the side of a spoon, until browned, 5-7 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes and cucuzza. Reduce heat to medium and partially cover skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cucuzza is tender, about 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in bread crumbs, 6 tablespoons cheese and oregano.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour mixture into a lightly greased baking dish, cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil, sprinkle top with reserved 2 tablespoons cheese and continue baking until cheese is melted, about 3 minutes more.  Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Makes 6-8 servings.


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8 Responses
  1. Sandra says:

    My grandma, who was from New Orleans, called my son “Googootz” when he was a little boy. I never knew the origin of the word until I read this post. Thank you for sharing this story! I’m sharing now with my son, along with the recipe. Thanks again!

  2. M. says:

    Gen, excellent recipe! Oh, yeah, “Googootz!” I haven’t heard that in FOREVER. Actually, I miss hearing it.

    I’ve cooked squash leaves/vines, exceptionally delicious mixed in (hidden?) in chopped spinach. I haven’t tried cucuzza leaves/vines simply because I haven’t grown any in Yankee-land.

    Cucuzza, mirlitons, and Japanese plums, all growing EVERYWHERE back home are non-existent here. Well, mirlitons, called “chayote” here, but I have to save up to buy them! What a wonderful city our hometown is–where such great food grows in everybody’s yard!

    Thanks for another delicious recipe and great memories. Have a fantastic weekend.

    • Genet says:

      We are lucky, aren’t we? Atlantans refer to mirlitons as chayotes too. Lord knows what they’d think of a three foot long cucuzza hanging out in their produce aisle! Always a pleasure hearing from you M!

  3. Jimmy Martin says:

    Genet, Did this last night but substituted groundmeat for the Italian sausage. Brought back memories of eating at Big Gabe’s parents house. They used to grow/hang theirs from the clothes line.


    • Genet says:

      Hey Jimmy! So good hearing from you and thanks for giving this recipe a try–I think cucuzza has strong food memories for anyone who’s had it. When I was preparing this recipe, my house smelled just like Franklin Avenue, because Grandma Kirn and then Papa and Mimi were always cooking down some sort of veggie with pork. Hope you and your family are doing well. Please stay in touch and love and hugs to all!

  4. janice says:

    My mother called these ” mel-a-tawns”
    and made the stuffing with gulf shrimp and stale French bread and her seasonings. Th3ey were great ! My grandmother called them “ga-gootzas” and grew them in her backyard. I sure miss the food in New Orleans. Actually, I miss EVERYTHING and EVERYONE back home in New Orleans

    • Genet says:

      Oh Janice, I also have a recipe for mirlitons– They are perfect for the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table!

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