what’s cooking wednesday: calabrian prickly zucchini

whatscookingwednesday.jpgI hope you don’t mind, but we’re taking a break from Sicily to come back to Calabria for a moment.

Today’s What’s Cooking Wednesday recipe probably isn’t one you’re going to rush out and try, but I couldn’t let another week go by without writing about:

Prickly zucchini

Prickly Zucchini from Calabria on Flickr

Actually I didn’t even know that would be an acceptable name in English for them, but it was my guess, so that’s what I typed into Google, and found a post by Rowena at Rubber Slippers in Italy (Great blog! Go read it!) entitled: Prickly Zucchini from Calabria.


I asked around a bit here, and no one even knows the name of these spiny little things in Italian; in Calabrese they are “cucuzze spinusi” where cucuzze is a general name for zucchini/pumpkins and spinosi (spinusi in Calabrese) means spiny or prickly.

Prickly zucchini from Calabria on Flickr

And because of Rowena’s commenters, I learned that our cucuzze spinusi are better-known as chayote, popular in many parts of the world, particularly Mexico. Also, Wikipedia tells me that the Italian name is zucca centeneria, but I’ll stick with cucuzze spinusi since no one around these parts would know what I’m talking about otherwise.

That same Wikipedia page gives some serving suggestions, which are basically all the things you’d do with un-prickly zucchini (yes, I was tempted to write “prickless”), but I’m going to share the way everyone eats them here–this according to a very informal survey at the local grocery store.

Fried Prickly Zucchini

Fried Prickly Zucchini on Flickr

Prickly zucchini
Olive oil for frying

So you’re probably wondering how to get the spines off.

First, these are real spines, not like the baby ones that prickly pears have. So first trim off the spines with a sharp knife and then peel it “come la mela” (like an apple) as P says.

Slice the zucchini to your desired thickness, discarding the innards along the way.

Mix a bit of salt with flour in a shallow bowl, and get dredging.

Fry them up until they’re a light golden brown (P left the ones in the photo in the oil *a tad* too long but they were still delicious), and you can taste your very first fried prickly zucchini.

Buon appetito!

34 Beans of Wisdom to “what’s cooking wednesday: calabrian prickly zucchini”
  1. 03.05.2008

    I have no idea what these are, though their prickly nature does make them look and sound interesting. You may also find it interesting to know that cucuzzi in Greek is the kernel, so that would be the hard core of a fruit.

    Irene’s last blog post..Time Travel Tuesday-Easter

    Hi Irene! I’m sure “cucuzze” comes from the Greek–lots of Greek influence in the Calabrese language. Thanks for the info!

  2. 03.05.2008

    Wow! These look so wierd and scary. Yeah I have always been told I have an open mind πŸ˜‰ My Mom used to slice and drege zucchini slices in egg and bread cumbs and fry them..she’d eat just that for dinner. Meanwhile all 3 kids and my Dad…we never liked them!! Sorry dahling….guess I’ll have to skip this one πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the lesson!!!

    My Melange’s last blog post..Lesson Four

    Mmm…I love fried zucchini slices (my recipe with breadcrumbs is listed at the bottom of this post as related). So sorry you’re missing out πŸ˜‰

  3. 03.05.2008

    I’ve never seen one before, but I’ll keep my eyes open at the markets…I’d like to try this recipe.

    meredith’s last blog post..Emma reads Dr. Seuss

    Meredith, one of P’s friends stopped in for coffee after lunch, saw these on our table, and asked what the heck they were…obviously not even all the Calabrese know of their existence πŸ˜‰

  4. 03.05.2008

    Those things look horrible! I asked my Italian colleague who is here with me, and she has only seen these once before in Sicily…apparently they do not have them in the north. They look like white chesnuts to me!

    Leanne’s last blog post..When in Rome

    Oh these are much bigger than chestnuts–about apple-sized in fact, a little larger. They’re really just like zucchini only protected on the outside. The are crunchier though, or at least the one that I ate was. Very nice taste indeed!

  5. 03.05.2008

    wow! These are so interesting…I wonder if I could find them at all in Florence? I’d love to try the recipe. They look like the fried bagel chips πŸ™‚ Are they about the size of a small apple?

    erin’s last blog post..on the subject of politics

    Hah, you were reading my mind on the apple thing–they’re actually about the size of an apple or even a little larger depending on your apples πŸ˜‰ You can, of course, fry regular zucchini slices by just dredging in a flour and salt mix as well. Tasty!

  6. 03.05.2008

    I’m sorry honey, but in the raw they look to much like something horrid belonging to the dog. The fried version looks ok though, do they taste like regular zucchini?

    amanda’s last blog post..A weekend off with SpongeBob

    Oh the dogs definitely wouldn’t play with these–these babies *hurt* the hands! Yes, they taste pretty much like zucchini–great in stews, sauces, etc. πŸ™‚

  7. anna l'americana

    So what I want to know is how do you get your hands around them to peel them “like an apple” without tearing yourself to shreds? First-Aid, anyone?
    I have never seen these before but the nature of them kind of fits the Calabrian thing in my mind. Of course anything dredged and fried can’t be bad, so I’d definitely go for a plate!

    Hah! Two answers to the first question:

    (1) I don’t; that’s what P’s for.
    (2) Verrrrrrrrrry carefully.

    I think he put on work gloves actually.

    And yes, I agree about the dredging and frying!

  8. 03.05.2008

    These look wonderful! The chayote in our store look a bit different, and the spines are not so ubiquitous. I might try this with chayote… or maybe just regular zucchini. I pretty much love anything with zucchini!

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..One Love for Liv Blog Tour and What’s Cooking “Wednesday: “Salmon a la Liv”

    Yeah, I’m not sure that these are exactly like chayote as I’ve never had those, but they’re definitely in the same family at least. Oh, and as I mentioned above, floured and fried is always a good choice for me πŸ˜‰

  9. 03.05.2008

    Oh, I’m a sucker for anything dredged and deep-fried, but I prefer to let the pros deal with the hot oil and splatters (not to mention prickly spines!). These look like they’d be mighty tasty with a chipotle mayonnaise or some kind of buttermilk/dill pickle dip. Not that I’ve ever seen anything like them around here…

    anno’s last blog post..Where does this stuff come from? Another fictional riff that is probably not going anywhere.

    I’m with you on the hot oil and prickly spines! I was afraid of deep-frying forever until I started doing it here, actually. I still prefer P to do it though πŸ˜‰ Mmm…dips….

  10. 03.05.2008

    The finished product looks yummy. I have to wonder what on earth the first person to ever pry one of the raw ones open and taste it was thinking though…

    Susan’s last blog post..The Avalanche Begins…

    My guess is that these were last resort; seems to be a peasant food from the get-go. I often wonder the same thing about so many fruits and vegetables…including olives!

  11. Very interesting. I have never seen these before.

    I do love zucchini. I should get some bread crumbs and make fried zucchini this weekend.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Girl Scout cookies, Chateau Marmont

    I hadn’t seen them either before a few months ago–and I’d been here for four years! Mmm…fry those zucchini baby πŸ™‚

  12. 03.05.2008

    Ouch! Wretched things… πŸ˜‰ I was wondering why the sudden interest in that particular post and I followed the zucchini/cuccuzza trail to this fabulous post and am thinking….hmm…it would have put the biggest grin on my face if you had written “prickless” — (sorry, having worked in restaurants mainly with the male gender and all that).

    I haven’t run into the pokey vegs since I wrote about them, and that was a long time ago! Now you make me want to revisit that little grocery store where I first bought them. I hope the calabrese woman still runs the place…I’m going to go in there, all proud and happy, and tell her, “I know what this is! It’s cucuzze spinusi… you just wanted to make it easy on the foreigner girl who wanted to buy them all up!”

    Hah! If the Calabrese woman is still there, I’m sure you’ll make her day. I couldn’t believe it when something actually came for “prickly zucchini” in my Google search–so happy you wrote about them way back when.

    And what the hell? Prickless. There. I wrote it πŸ˜‰

  13. I’ve never heard of these before, but they look intriguing. I’m sure my chances of finding any around here are zilch! I’m sure I’d like them, though. πŸ™‚

    Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy’s last blog post..Stuffed Eggplants With Meat From Arabesque

    Well they are certainly unique, that’s for sure. Honestly I don’t think these are very easy to find in any stores–I’ve *never* seen them in stores here in Calabria where they’re grown. We get them from neighbors who grow them.

  14. 03.05.2008

    Yum! I’m familiar with chayote after living in Arizona for 11 years. it’s used in stews and such also.

    So, I’m wondering and a little worried that the package I sent you is lost in the mail. Did you ever receive it?

    Geggie’s last blog post..You Are Codially Invited

    Oh no! I haven’t received anything. If it’s been about a month, though, it could come any day now. Fingers crossed!

  15. 03.05.2008

    Oh!!! And I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Party, too. What fun!

    Woohoo! I’m so excited! I’m already making room in my schedule for lots of blog-hopping πŸ™‚

  16. Sabinem

    I was thinking this looked like a Chayote and then I saw Geggie’s comment. IS THIS what it is? I also lived in AZ and now in CA, and I recognize this prickly thing….never made it!
    Your recipe looks yummy!
    If I see them I might give it a try!

    Sabinem’s last blog post..Earth Hour March 29th

    From commenters at Rowena’s post at Rubber Slippers, it seems that it’s a chayote, or at least related. I really enjoyed my first taste of them. And the second and third….

  17. 03.05.2008

    I’ve never seen those before – so curious-looking.

    I was very curious myself πŸ™‚

  18. 03.05.2008

    Why I love Teh Intarwebz, Part 1000: Your bloggy friends post pictures that make you say… WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? And then they tell you.

    I love “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?” moments myself. Happy to oblige πŸ™‚

  19. Does it grow on a vine like chayote? In Vietnamese cooking, we pickle it, saute it, or add to soups. And after looking at that picture, I am ever so grateful that chayote is prickless. πŸ˜‰

    Wandering Chopsticks’s last blog post..Taiwanese Popcorn Tofu

    Yup it’s on a vine. I’ve heard that there are some varieties of chayote that have spines? Maybe? I don’t know; I’ve never even seen a chayote. Mmm…pickled πŸ™‚

  20. 03.05.2008

    I guess you don’t have boy dogs. If you did you’d know what I meant by ‘belonging to the dog’.

    amanda’s last blog post..A weekend off with SpongeBob

    Oooooooooh…”belonging” to the dog. Aha. All bitches here I’m afraid πŸ˜‰

  21. 03.05.2008

    Prickly Zucchini… The end result looks delish! Wonder who originally looked at these and thought… “Hmmm those look weird.. I’m gonna taste one” LOL!

    Darrin, these are definitely one of my new fried favorites; and I can’t imagine thinking these are edible (or worth the effort) either. Guess it’s good I was born now and not hundreds of years ago πŸ˜‰

  22. 03.06.2008

    Scarlett clicks on Sognatrice’s page and sees spiky produce.

    “OUCH!” thinks Scarlett with a slight cringe. “She’s cooking that?”

    Continues to look through post.

    reads “…which are basically all the things you’d do with un-prickly zucchini”

    Scarlett sips hot Earl Grey tea…

    reads “…(yes, I was tempted to write β€œprickless”),”

    Scarlett chokes on tea and struggles to keep lips closed and NOT spew said Earl Grey all over *WORK COMPUTER*…

    Finally manages to swallow tea and goes breathless in a fit of giggles.

    Scarlett recovers.

    Reads… “So you’re probably wondering how to get the spines off.”

    Giggles again whilst thinking… good thing she put ‘spines’ instead of ‘pricks’…

    Wanderlust Scarlett’s last blog post..Bambooed

    Hee hee. My word play sister, I knew you’d hear me on this one πŸ˜‰ Glad you saved your computer!

  23. 03.06.2008

    Hands down the most interesting recipe we’ve seen on WCW yet!

    Shan’s last blog post..what’s cooking wednesday – the birthday edition

    I do aim to be “interesting” πŸ˜‰

  24. 03.06.2008

    well now…you have to wonder…who was the first person to look at those strange little beasts covered in pricklies & say, “Hey, let’s eat this!” that aside, it looks quite good. i agree with shan πŸ˜‰

    qualcosa di bello’s last blog post..better late than never…

    I bet they were *really* hungry. That’s the best I can figure πŸ˜‰

  25. 03.06.2008

    I have roses with big thorns and roses with little thorns..odd, the more prickly rose smells sweeter..
    Are these available in the States?
    Fun post Michelle and welcome back! πŸ™‚

    Laurie’s last blog post..Bucatini with Seared Rosemary Lamb in Pistachio Pesto Cream Sauce

    I like that sentiment Laurie πŸ™‚ From other commenters, it seems that these are at least available in the Southwest; not sure about anywhere else.

  26. Rosa (something...)

    I love it when you throw bits of Calabrese in ! It’s as if I was talking to my grand-mother. Speaking of whom, used to make the normal cuccuzzini in the same way only she’d sprinkle them with parmigiano at the end.

    Mmm…I love parmigiano on anything! Hoping to have lots more Calabrese tidbits for you Rosa; I love sharing these things too πŸ™‚

  27. 03.06.2008

    I found this vegetable in the autumn and had no idea what it was. The person in the market that sold it to me called it a Calabrian melanzane, so I had real trouble finding it until Rowena from Rubber Slippers came to the rescue. I was surprised to see yours is so white, mine were green. Have a look if you care.

    Unknown Fruit, Italian Aubergine?

    I have to say that I loved it dunked in a few bred crumbs and served with Rowena’s suggestion of Wasabi mayo!

    Well I don’t know of prickly eggplant, but you never know πŸ˜‰

    Actually mine are a pale yellow, and that’s what all the ones on the vine I saw looked like–maybe they are different types or just one is riper? Boh.

    Also, as for the wasabi, you must be dreaming to think I can get *that* in Calabria πŸ˜‰

  28. 03.07.2008

    A true labor of love! Ugly, yes. And yet, why is my mouth watering?

    Jennifer Young’s last blog post..New art Auction: β€œMountain Chalet”, Lake Como, Italy

    Hey ugly food sometimes tastes great too. Great life lesson, don’t you think? πŸ˜‰

  29. 03.08.2008

    Don’t think I’ve seen those before. I’d be a bit scared to eat one TBH. Ouch πŸ˜‰

    Delina’s last blog post..Happy Festa delle Donne

    Yes, this is a great time to have an Italian OH who enjoys such pursuits πŸ˜‰

  30. 03.11.2008

    We eat this spiny delicacy the exact way we eat the Cucuzza Lunga, here in Sicily. Your pictures are great!

    I attached the link on how I prepare the Cucuzza Lunga, if you’d like to try to substitute in the spinosi.

    Cucuzza Lunga


    Jill’s last blog post..And we’re off…

    Yeah! Someone else who has heard of them! Thanks for the link–“cucuzza lunga” really doesn’t do that thing justice! Wow!

  31. Cornelia Warner

    has anyone seen this zuccini as a plant? I may have a volunteer in my garden, in southern Oregon. not a clue how it got there. has a yellow squash flower, tons of thorns, and leaves like an oak or a “moon and stars” watermelon plant.

    Cornelia, I’m sorry I didn’t look at the plant it came from; the people who gave me them had already picked them πŸ™

  32. 08.01.2008

    I have never seen these- I would love to taste them…they look yummy! Thanks for the lesson.

    Susan’s last blog post..A Little Fun

    Glad you enjoyed these Susan; they certainly are unique πŸ™‚

  33. Carmelita Caruana

    These are eaten in Malta, not by many I have to admit.

    In Malta the are called “centinarja”, they are usually spine -free and most commonly they are made into fritters or soup or used in stews.

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  34. anna

    re from Carmen Caruana (Malta), I have often seen these in the markets in Malta and wondered what you do with them – now I know. BUT as a bit of fun, buy one (Asda in UK) and put it in a pot on its side half covered with good potting compost. Keep indoors ( a sunny window) and one month on, you will have a 3′ plant climbing up the curtains!!! If it survives the winter stick it in the garden in the spring and see what happens
    anna m

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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