Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Cucuzzi?

I got a comment on one of my posts over at Eat Local Challenge. The author wondered what I thought about Seth Godin's prediction that farmers markets would gradually give over to the mass market, that over time, they would become average and not offer anything unique.

I think while Mr. Godin may know marketing, he does not know farmers. Farmers are not marketers, especially mass marketers. The ones that I know are passionate about what they grow, excited about new and different varieties, and extremely — perhaps obsessively — fascinated with seed catalogs. They are also stubborn and individualistic, which allows many of them to survive the difficulty of keeping a family farm going. Many hold down a second job just so they can work at farming. There's a lot of passion required to do that.

To Mr. Godin, I present Exhibit A, the cucuzzi. I also present the other 12 different vegetables I had seen or tried until I met local farmers these last few years. I would say, rather than becoming "average" each year has brought me new culinary surprises and more and more rare varieties, not less.

  1. Cucuzzi. Also know as the bottle gourd, calabash, Italian edible gourd, long fruited gourd, long melon, long squash, peh poh, woo lo kua, hu lu gua, opo squash, New Guinea bean, Tasmania bean, snake gourd, suzza melon, or zuzza, yugao (Japanese), po gua (Cantonese), kwa kwa or hu gua (Chinese), upo (Filipino), cucuzzi (Italian), bau (Vietnamese), and dudhi or lauki (Indian).

    The cucuzzi is not a true squash, but an edible gourd. It has white flesh inside, and is somewhat similar to zucchini in uses. The gourds can be up to three feet long. I showed it here with two large zucchinis for size comparison.

  2. Flowering Bok Choy, or bok choy sum. A Cantonese variety, smaller and sweeter than the larger varieties. I fell in love with the beautiful tiny yellow flowers on the dark, slender leafy greens. Here is a recipe and a photo.

  3. Heirloom Tomatoes. Wildly popular now, just a few years back these amazing tomatoes were only known to a few home gardeners. Here is the post I wrote when I first discovered what real tomatoes taste like.

  4. Thai Eggplant (Hybrid Tiger). Tiny, round, with green and white stripes, the small Asian variety was not bitter and helped me see eggplant in a whole new light. There are a lot more varieties, including ones I found at my market like aubergines and Ma-Zu Purple. Here is just a few.

  5. Purple, Yellow and Roma Beans. Who knew "green beans" were so colorful? And tasty. I love the Romas, not a common find, but I bought all the ones I could get.

  6. Purple Hull Peas. I had not shelled my own peas until this year. One of my favorite farmers started putting just a couple baskets of these shell peas out. I picked one up, it was different and I wanted to try it. I was pretty amazed at the flavor and texture difference with using fresh beans.

  7. Kohlrabi. Leafy greens in general were little known to me other than salads. I had not done much cooking of greens before. When the CSA bag came loaded with this variety as well as kale, chard and mustard greens, I had to learn. Now, I love them.

  8. Red Warty Thing (Bumpy Hubbard). Delicata, Sweet Dumpling, One Too Many, Turks Turban ... the list goes on. This year heirloom and unique varieties of winter squash have appeared at local markets and pumpkin patches. I am stocked up and planning recipes.

  9. Purple and Orange Cauliflower. Gorgeous colors and even unique nutritionally from the white variety despite the fact that they are the same species of plant, just a different cultivar.

  10. Fava Beans. Fresh ones. We first got these homegrown from an Italian deli, but this year they showed up at the farmers market. Kind of a pain to shell, blanch and peel, but well worth it once they are sauteed in olive oil and garlic and served room temperature with pecorino. Or, mix it with more exotic fiddlehead ferns for a unique dish.

  11. Purple Asparagus. I knew there was white and green, but had never seen purple. The beautiful color fades when cooked, but the spears are sweeter than the green variety.

  12. Musquee de Provence, Long Island Cheese, Fairytale, Cinderella. With such romantic names and unusual shapes and colors, it was easy for me to fall deeper in love with my favorite winter vegetable, pumpkin, this fall.

  13. Golden beets. Taste little like the red ones, milder and sweet. The color is a vibrant yellow that looks amazing when mixed with the red ones in a dish. The beet harvest suffered a bit with the spring freeze, I am hoping a few show up this fall.
When I consider that the diversity of crop species has declined by 75 percent since 1900, it makes it more important than ever for me to look for new vegetables and fruits and buy the heirloom varieties, thus supporting the farmers who preserve the diversity we have. As long as they keep growing such amazing heirloom varieties, and we support them the best we can, our farmers markets will stay anything but "average."


Miranda said...

Do you know how one cooks the kohlrabi root in a tasty fashion, as that is what they sell here in Germany, and I haven't a clue? The greens at the top are always quite minimal and droopy, so I presume we're not meant to eat those.

In fact, if you felt like doing a hideous-root-vegetable series, cooking with things like celeriac, salsify and kohlrabi, I'd be eternally grateful, as that's all we get locally in the winter time. :)

Judy Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian said...

Dear Expat,

I agree with you on Seth Godin's take on farmer's markets. He clearly doesn't eat locally (I wonder if he's actually ever been to a farmer's market, if he cooks at all, etc.) We have an excellent farmer's market where I live, and the variety can be positively bewildering. The farmers (locals all) are passionate, knowledgeable, proud of the diversity of produce they offer, delighted to offer cooking and growing tips, and always eager to hear about new varieties to try.

I like your recipes, too, and plan to adapt a few of them to vegan. Will let you know how it goes!

Best, Judith Kingsbury,

The Expatriate Chef said...

I'll have to look into a "hideous root vegetable series!"

Many recipes are an easy switch to vegan, especially the soups. Let me know how it works out!

Diane said...

This is an old entry, I know, but on the off-chance-- have any recipes for cucuzzi? We are growing them this summer for the first time and now have more than imagined. I could use some creative ways to cook them up. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Peel & soak in water with a bit of sugar for an hour. Then dice up and smother with onions & garlic put in casserole dish with bread crumb & ital cheese topping. dot with butter and bake on 350 till top turns brown or slice in round slices soak in sugar water dip in egg then breadcrumbs and fry. Top with ital cheese. Use salt, pepper and garlic powder to your own taste.