Recipe: Squash Vines aka Grattaculi (butt scratchers)

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This post was inspired by Claus who tweets as @augustlights.  He sent out the pic above with the question:  “Do you have any idea what this is? Picked up on whim at HFM Sunday”.  I recognized the ultimate veg for the frugal.  They are Squash Vines, or as I learned in Basilicata, Italy, grattaculi which translates as Butt Scratchers.  The vines are very fibrous and prickly, ergo the Italian reference.  That’s enough to make me try them.  New zucchini vines are the most tender of the squash vines.  I suspect those above are a bit more fibrous.  Anyone who grows summer squashes knows the benefits to curbing their growth by trimming the vines.

Several years ago I was exploring the region of Basilicata which is the arch of the boot of Italy.  I was lucky enough to be introduced to the most gifted natural cook I’ve ever met, Angela Scutari.  She and her family operate a very rustic B&B in the hills above Senise called L’Acacia.

Here is what I said about how she used the squash vines:

Then there was the simplest of soups made from the tender tops of zucchini vines Angela lopped off then simmered in water with zucchini flowers, a diced potato, a couple of green beans, basil and a bit of salt.

Angela's Grattaculi (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)


It was the kind of simply delicious that only comes from perfect seasonal ingredients and a culinary mind steeped in tradition.  And a hand not afraid to pour on copious amounts of excellent olive oil.  The trick to making the vines edible is to use a sharp paring knife to peel off the roughest of the prickles, much like you would for asparagus.  Make a little nick to created an edge and peel back and discard the long strings which come off.  That said, the finished product is still basically prickly fiber.  Truly, it is cooking that makes something from nothing.

The Method:

1/4 cup good oil in pan
Add sliced garlic and onion if you wish and briefly saute
Add cut up vines, leaves, squash blossoms and stew a minute in the oil
Add cherry tomatoes if you want
Add 1 peeled and diced potato
Add a small handful trimmed green beans
Barely cover with enough water.
Add salt and simmer until vines soften.

My explorations resulted in an article I wrote for Gourmet on the region, that featured her cooking.  If you want to see Angela at work take a look at this segment of Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie: Italian Home Cooking.  She doesn’t make the Grattaculi here but you still can enjoy her (and my buddy Elizabeth Minchilli who hosted this episode).