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 – Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Day of Mom Memories

My mom passed away the end of August 2015, so we are coming up on the anniversary of that. She had Alzheimer’s. It stole her memories and, in the end, it stole her very breath.

Mom’s 87th birthday would have been a few weeks ago – July 7th.

I never quite know what to do on her birthday with no phone call to make, no card to send, no present to buy.

Last year, one of the things I did was go to the store for two of her favorite treats – a Pepsi and some ice cream – and enjoyed them in memory of her.

This year, I made an extra effort to think about Mom as I went through my day – and to maybe do some things the way she would do them. Here’s how my day went.

I’ll eventually get to the cookie recipe! I promise!

You can skip to the end if you prefer. Because I’m telling the whole story of my day!

As I got ready for the day, I knew Mom would make her bed. She made her bed every day. And I intended to make mine! But, I was the first one up to let the dogs out, and I just never got it done. Not like Mom

First on the day’s agenda was a Weight Watchers meeting. Mom never had an issue with her weight until she was at least my age and probably older. This is my third (I think) round of participating in Weight Watchers. Mom joined TOPS (Take Off Pound Sensibly) when she decided she needed to do something about her weight. TOPS became an important social group for her. She made friends with the other members. They attended her funeral. They were close! I’m not so connected with the other WW folks. Kinda like Mom

Next stop was the oncology office to take port pillows to the infusion room. I was so happy to run into Adrian! He sat at the check-in desk while I was in active treatment. Adrian knew who I was by the third time I walked in the door and always greeted me by name (before I signed in!) and with a warm smile. He made coming to the oncology office feel like I was welcomed into a good place. He has since been promoted to a behind-the-scenes job, so other patients aren’t getting the “treatment” I received. Anyway, I saw him and got to thank him and tell him how important that was to me.

I don’t think mom ever visited an oncologist’s office and I know she never made port pillows, but she did have her own ways of doing for others and they often involved crafts. And she always made people feel welcome. Kinda like Mom

I needed to buy a skein of yarn to finish up the Welcome Blanket I was making, so I went to the craft store. Now, Mom loved a good craft store, so I took my time there. I got the yarn I needed and picked up another yarn I possibly did not need. I bought a book of crochet baby blanket patterns because our church has started a ministry of making knit or crochet blankets for every baby born to church members and having a reception once a year and giving them to the parents. Mom would have been all over that, I’m pretty sure, so I really had to buy that book.

I took a stroll down the cake decorating aisle for Mom. She decorated cakes for lots of people and causes – including my wedding cake. I tried to find something to buy that I needed, but nothing called my name. If there had been a Wilton 2017 Yearbook, I would have bought it, but there were none.

I looked at the schedule of craft classes. Mom frequently attended Saturday morning craft classes at her local craft store and then used what she learned to decorate her home, make gifts, make crafts with her grandkids, or use as crafts for her Sunday School class kids. No classes for me, but it was another way to remember her. Quite a bit like Mom

A trip to the grocery story this year was not for Pepsi and ice cream, but for the ingredients for Mom’s meatloaf and for mashed potatoes. And so we ate “Mom” food for dinner. Oh – and I bought chocolate chips – in case I had time to bake cookies. Like Mom

See? We are getting closer to the recipe. It really is coming.

I checked my email when I got home. In my inbox I found that my church desperately needed volunteers for Vacation Bible School and needed volunteers to prepare food and to host homeless families at the church during the upcoming week. I knew Mom would definitely volunteer for VBS and I knew she and dad would also sign up to prepare food – and maybe even to stay the night. So …  I knew I should volunteer for something!! It took me a few days to sign up, but I did end up helping at VBS every day – something I hadn’t done since my kids were little. Half like Mom

Someone needed my attention and time slipped away, so I never got around to the cookies on Mom’s birthday. I decided to extend the “Mom Memory Birthday” into the weekend and made the cookies on Saturday.

I have absolutely no control when it comes to cookies. I knew I might possibly eat every one – and this recipe makes a lot of cookies. So, as I baked, and tasted dough, and ate cookies, I tried to think like Mom and decide who needed these cookies much more than I did. That afternoon, I took some to the kids next door, a friend who had just returned home after surgery at M.D. Anderson, a friend whose dad had recently passed away, and a good friend who has done a lot for me and happened to have her three granddaughters at her house.

I still had cookies! I ate more cookies! I couldn’t even count the WW points! What to do?

I bagged up the rest and took two bags to church with me on Sunday morning and decided I would give them to whomever seemed “right” for my mission. One bag went to a young man who falls within the age range of people Mom would have taught in Sunday School (they were almost all boys). Mom was known for making an extra big chocolate chip cookie (not this recipe) for her Sunday School kids for their birthdays. The other bag went to a couple about the same age as my parents – contemporaries who I am sure would have been friends if they had known each other. Like Mom

I was a little awkward (sometimes really awkward!) when I gave away the cookies because I wanted to say something about my mom and I wasn’t sure how to put it. The poor teenagers next door heard me say, “My mom would have been a much better neighbor than I am.” It’s a true statement, but they must have thought that sentiment very strange! By the end of the cookie giving, I was saying, “These are from my mom and me.”

Oh – And I figured out that since I couldn’t give a present to Mom on her birthday, I could give a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.

I was surprised to realize that I had not already shared the recipe here! Mom made these cookies often when we were growing up. I’m not absolutely positively sure – but when I think of learning to bake, I think of these cookies – of being in the kitchen with mom, measuring and sifting and mixing … learning to pack brown sugar. I think making these cookies with Mom may have been my first real lesson in cookie baking. Thanks Mom! I love cookies!

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups shortening                 4 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar              4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar                           1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs                                   1 large package chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream together the shortening and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time – beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and the dry ingredients which have been sifted together. Lastly add chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet. (I don’t do that anymore! Yay for parchment paper!) Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. (I like mine a little under baked.)

Pour a glass of cold milk and enjoy!