Spaghetti (gluten free or otherwise) prepared with sautéed cucuzza (Italian for zucchini) and onions in a red sauce, brings back fond memories of my great grandmother, Concetta Irene. She was a thin, petite Italian woman who had the strength of an ox. Widowed at a young age, she was forced to work full-time once her husband passed. My grandmother and great uncle were grown, but all still lived in the same apartment building on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx with my great grandmother, great-great grandmother and large extended family. At that time, Italian families stuck together and didn’t venture too far from each other. When one decided to move, all followed suit. That’s just the way it was.
As the years went on, my grandparents, now with three kids of their own, decided to leave the Bronx to start a life in the suburbs. Naturally, my great grandmother moved with them and the rest of the family followed suit. She did most of the cooking since my grandparents both worked full-time and pretty much ran the household. She sewed runs in her pantyhose and rinsed plastic wrap and ziplock bags so they could be reused. She flattened and folded aluminum foil if it wasn’t dirty. She saved bakery string because you never knew when you’d need it! She washed her clothes by hand on a wash board. She bathed my brother and I when we were little kids in her “slop” sink, as we called it, which was the cleanest, most sparkling white sink you’d ever see in a laundry room! She would scrub the floors on her hands and knees. She was one of a kind. And one heck of a cook, too! Her meatballs still make me salivate just thinking about them. She cooked very simply, without fussy ingredients. But her food was always fresh, flavorful and simply perfection. She had a few signature dishes that she’d make often, this pasta being one of her go-to dishes during the summer when zucchini was in season. The neighbor behind my grandparents (a lovely Italian man we called Tom) had a massive garden and would pass some of his bounty to us over the fence on a regular basis. Spaghetti with Cucuzza would be on repeat all summer long! With every twist of my fork, this dish takes me back to that very special time in my life. I’m so fortunate to have had her in my life until she was 94 years old!
When I made this recipe for the blog, I happened to have a surplus of tomatoes from the garden. Since my great grandmother always taught us that food was sacred and should never be wasted, I chose to make my own fresh sauce with them. However, you can use any plain tomato sauce that you prefer. Here’s how I made this sauce:
Wash the tomatoes and cut away any blemishes. You can leave the stems on since they’ll go through a food mill later. Place them in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently boil until soft.
When soft and mushy, drain off the water. Place the mill over a bowl large enough for the sauce and begin to spoon the cooked tomatoes into the food mill in batches. Discard the seeds and skin that sits on the top of the mesh sieve.
Scrape off the fleshy tomato pulp that is on the underside of the sieve. You want this!
The sauce will probably be very thin and watery, depending on the type of tomatoes you use. Salad tomatoes like these yield a more watery sauce. Plums or Roma tomatoes will yield a thicker sauce. Set aside or refrigerate. Now, to make the sautéed zucchini and onion sauce…
Gluten Free Spaghetti with Cucuzza (Zucchini)
- 1/2 white onion, cut in half and thinly sliced into half rounds
- 1 large zucchini or 2 small zucchini, seeds removed and cut into 1-inch wedges (the skin can be left on as long as it's washed well)
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Crushed red pepper
- Black pepper
- Pinch of sugar
- Fresh basil, 2-3 leaves
- Fresh tomato sauce
- Step 1 In a sauce pot, season the fresh tomato sauce with salt, both peppers, a pinch of sugar and the basil. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and cover. Allow it to simmer gently for about 30 minutes. It should thicken up slightly.
- Step 2 In a large frying pan, add a few swirls of olive oil. Heat.
- Step 3 Add the sliced onions and sautéed until they begin to soften but aren’t brown.
- Step 4 Add the zucchini to the pan and begin to sautée with the onions. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- Step 5 When the zucchini begins to soften up, begin ladling in the hot tomato sauce. You want to cover the zucchini/onions completely with the sauce.
- Step 6 Gently simmer the sauce, adding more salt and both of the peppers, to taste. Simmer until the zucchini is very tender but not mushy.
- Step 7 While the sauce is cooking, cook your spaghetti. I prefer the gluten free Bionaturae, but any spaghetti will do, gluten free or not.
- Step 8 Drain the pasta and add it to the frying pan in batches, tossing with the sauce as you add it.
- Step 9 When the pasta is added and tossed completely, finish with a generous amount of freshly grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese and more crushed red pepper if you like it spicy.