So have you ever heard of the Cucuzza? Me neither – and then, this spring I got some mysterious seeds from a fellow gardener: She brought them with her from a trip to Sicily and was so kind to send me some. They where simply called Zuchetta, the Italien term for squash. In the beginning, I didn’t even know what I was dealing with. Now after this garden year I can tell you: to grow Cucuzza was quite an experience. So please let me introduce you.
To figure out what I was dealing with, I grew one plant starting this spring. And with every thing I learned about it while it grew I tried to research its true name. It took me until September when I finally came across a plant called Cucuzza serpente di Sicilia and I thought: that’s it! That’s the one I’m growing!
So if you want to know how to grow this super long and super tasty squash, you don’t have to look any further! Here is my complete guide on Cucuzza.
What is a Cucuzza?
This extraordinary plant of the Cucurbitaceae family grows extremely well even in our tempered climate. It climbs like other types of pumpkins while its fruits resemble more those of Zucchini: only way thinner and longer.
The Cucuzza has strong vines and tendrils and covered the whole archway that I built for it in no time! The leaves look like soft pumpkin, bright green pumpkin leaves and it develops very pretty white flowers. Male and female ones, like typical for this plant family. The interesting thing is, that the flowers open at dawn and bloom way into the night. This offered food to all kinds of bugs and months that avoid the daylight and made my garden yet a bit more biodiverse. I loved it! Growing Cucuzza was a simple task as the plant was vigorous and grew like crazy, even after it got attacked ba powdery mildew.
How does Cucuzza taste?
The vine grew a lot of bright green fruit which looked like extremely long and slim courgettes/Zucchini with a soft fuzz on the skin. Hence the name Cucuzza serpente di Sicilia, which means “snake of Sicily”.
The fruit can be used for cooking just like Zucchini and they where delicious! Super soft, mild and slightly nutty. The fuzz disappeared completely while cooking and the skin was super tender. And just like Zucchini they are the most delicious as long as they are young. Young means that they are still flexible and bendy and that the skin is easy to pierce with a finger nail. I harvested them when they grew around 80 cm (32 inches) long. At that stage they still only have small and tender seeds which can be eaten as well.
You can use them in stir fry, grill or bake them, make Cucuzza-bread or even pickle them. And every single dish turned out delicious. This plant is hard to get in normal markets, I’ve never seen it being sold, even in delicacy shops. This is why I would encourage you to grow Cucuzza and give it a try! It is a beautiful addition even to a balcony I you find a huge container to plant it in.
I decided to leave two fruits to mature since I hoped to get some seeds. Apart from that I wondered if the marrow would be still edible.
So that’s how I got two Cucuzza Marrows which are each longer than 1,5m (about 60 inch)! They have a lot of seeds and the skin has become extremely tough and woody. The flesh was still white and tender and mild/sweetish while raw. Unfortunately it got bitter while I tried to bake it in the oven, so the marrows seem to be of zero culinary value. But I have enough seeds for the years to come! This one is a keeper!!
How to grow a Cucuzza?
If you know how to grow a squash or a pumpkin, you know how to grow Cucuzza as well! I started the two seeds I got indoors about 5 weeks before the last frost date. I buried them 2 fingers deep in a nutrient poor potting medium. As containers I used empty and clean yogurt containers in which I poked wholes to allow for drainage.
They took less then a week to germinate and grew well. Once the last frost had passed I hardened them off (taking them outside for a couple of hours each day so they can get used to the sun and the cold for increasing amounts of time) and planted the strongest one under a makeshift trellis.
As this plant has its origin in the Mediterranean, the Cucuzza serpente di Sicilia likes to be in full sun! It also coped well with dry soil and did need a bit of summer heat to start growing fruit initially.
I treated it just the same as my other summer squash/ zucchini/ courgette which means that I watered it once in a while in the hot summer and fertilized it every month with some hands full of worm castings.
So all together I can highly recommend growing the Cucuzza serpente di Sicilia! It is easy to grow, pretty to look at, prolific in harvest and familier yet different in taste. If you would like some more advice, don’t hesitate to ask!