Those fabulous little Italian squashes that New Orleanians of Sicilian ancestry grow with such fervor in their back yards might very well be the ultimate “veggie” here.

Smothered Cucuzza

1 pound #4 spaghetti pasta, cooked al dente
1 Sicilian Sugo recipe (see below)
2 large fresh cucuzza, peeled and medium diced
1 bowl grated Pecorino Romano cheese for topping
Parsley for garnish

Sicilian Red Gravy

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 small cans tomato paste
6 tomato-paste cans filled with chicken stock
2 teaspoons dried sweet basil, (3 tablespoons, if fresh)
2+ teaspoons Frank Davis Sicilian Seasoning
2 whole bay leaves
Sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

In a heavy 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil to medium high.

Then drop in the chopped onions and the garlic and stirring constantly lightly saute them together until they just soften (it is not necessary to brown the onions and you don't want the garlic to burn). About two to three minutes should do it.

When the onions and garlic are ready, add the tomato paste to the pot and rapidly stir it into the mix.

Remember that you don't have to fry the tomato paste for eternity to make good red gravy. Actually, if you fry the paste for much longer than 5 minutes you will increase the acidity of the tomatoes and the gravy will be strong, harsh, and bitter. You want it to come out light and sweet, so just cook it a few minutes or so until the paste, onions, garlic, and olive oil are mixed well.

At this point, add the chicken stock (substitute vegetable stock if you're cooking for a true vegetarian) to the tomato paste and stir again until the mixture is silky smooth. Keep in mind that the secret to making real Italian gravy the right consistency is to use three cans of stock for every one can of tomato paste.

When the gravy is thoroughly mixed, add the basil, the Sicilian Seasoning, and the bay leaves and season the gravy with salt and pepper to your taste.

Then when the tomato gravy is perfect, that's when you drop in the cucuzza pieces, stir everything together well, and cover the pot tightly.

At a low setting, the cucuzza should take about 20 minutes to become delicate and tender. By the way, you can also add sausage, chopped chicken, meatballs, pork chops, boiled eggs, or shrimp to the gravy.

When the creation is done, generously ladle it out piping hot over a hefty plate of hot #4 spaghetti, liberally sprinkle on the cheese, and garnish it all with the parsley. Mama mia!!!

Chef's Notes:

Oh just for the never add sugar to authentic Italian gravy. Prepare it properly and it will be light and naturally sweet. And to reduce the sodium content present in the Romano cheese, simply substitute Parmigiano Reggiano in its place.

Before you begin preparing the cucuzza (pronounced ku-koot-za), take an 8-quart stockpot and boil the spaghetti until it is just al dente (still resistant to the tooth).

When it's done, drain it in a colander, wash off the excess starch, and set it in a 200 degree oven to stay warm.

To prep the cucuzza, take a potato or vegetable peeler and strip away the outer green skin, exposing the delicate white flesh of the vegetable beneath.

Then cut the cucuzza into one-and one-half-inch diced pieces. Young cucuzza will have small seeds inside the flesh these will cook away during the simmering step.

Large, older cucuzza will have very large hard seeds these need to be scraped out with a teaspoon or melon baller.

Then when the squash is tender, stir in your pasta, cover the pot once more, let the dish simmer for about 2 minutes longer, and serve it up in big bowls, piping hot and generously topped with Romano cheese and parsley.

Just so you'll know, cucuzza are long tube-like Italian squash that's high in natural fiber. And whether you like squash or not, I guarantee you going to like cucuzza.

It's delicate and sweet, light in flavor, rich in vitamin C, and goes well with almost everything. Prepared according to the recipe above, it's a versatile vegetable. But you can embellish the dish any way you want to.

Cooked cucuzza freezes really well.

BTW, if you're not Sicilian (or if you don't grow your own in your back yard), you can order it directly from the largest cucuzza farm in the United States, right here in Ruston, Louisiana. Violet and Christopher Cordaro ship out 10 and 20 pound boxes all over the country during cucuzza season. Simply call 318-255-6897or log on to Cucuzza