Sometimes, I try new ways to cook familiar favorites. Other times, I try to make a familiar favorite out of a new ingredient.

This week, I thought I’d try my hand at cucuzza, often called Italian squash, which are grown across the Deep South. And while they're called squash, they’re actually gourds.

I had seen these gourds at the market, and I finally picked up one. I asked the farmer how he liked it cooked, and he explained a simple, traditional method was his favorite.

I Eat La.: Recipe for Cucuzza Casserole

Until I become familiar with the taste and texture of this 2-foot-long, lean green vegetable, I thought I’d give his method a try. The result is today's recipe.

After doing some more research and further questioning of the farmer, I now have a few tips and tricks to share for cooking cucuzza.

Cucuzza grow hanging from vines like a cucumber but on a much bigger scale. They sometimes measure more than 2 feet long. Choose cucuzza that are slightly heavy with smooth skin. The seeds are large so you’ll want to remove those, but it’s OK if you miss the smaller ones in the more narrow “neck” of the cucuzza. You can cook them until they are fork-tender, but beware they are still a bit firm when cooked completely. Their taste is very mild, which makes them a base for all sorts of recipes.

So don’t dismiss the weird-looking fruits and vegetables at the farmers market. And don’t be afraid to ask a farmer how to cook it. They eat a lot more of their produce than we do, so there’s a good chance they have tested a host of recipes for everything they grow. You can probably count on them to give you the good ones so you’ll come back for more, too.