A cooked spaghetti squash.
Winter squashes, like acorn and butternut, have always been one of those foods that if I found out I was allergic, I definitely would not shed a single tear. I’m not sure whether it’s the mushy baby food texture, or the overly rich earthy taste that gets me but I’m just not a fan. However, one variety of winter squash, spaghetti squash, has found a permanent place in my heart. To be honest, the majority of my love probably stems from my kid-like enjoyment of combing the spaghetti noodle like strands from the shell rather than the actual taste, but whatever, it’s a way to get some squash into my diet.
As its name suggests, the flesh of spaghetti squash is eerily similar to the real pasta variety. Many people, especially those who are gluten intolerant (allergic to wheat) or low-carb dieters, use the squash as an alternative to traditional pasta. The texture and taste are both similar and it tastes great simply mixed with cheese or regular pasta sauce. Fabulous Foods calls it a “dieter’s dream” being that a four-ounce serving of the pretend pasta has just 37 calories and no fat.
While the squash is usually available year-round, their peak season is fall through winter. There are two different varieties of spaghetti squash, the original, which is a pale cream color, and a newer variety called orangetti, which is bright orange and a little sweeter. Look for ones that are hard and heavy with an even colored shell, no soft spots and no green tinge, meaning it’s not ripe. For storage, a whole squash can keep at room temperature for over a month and cooler places even longer. Cut, it will last around three days if refrigerated and wrapped.
One of the great things about spaghetti squash is how easy it is to prepare. It can be baked, steamed, boiled, cooked in a crock-pot, and even microwaved. I usually bake mine to get that roasted flavor but if you’re short on time, microwave it. You can cook them whole or cut them in half or quarters before cooking: cooking them whole is a little less work but cutting them up first decreases cooking time.
Spaghetti squash with sausage.
To bake: Pierce a whole squash with a fork multiple times or cut it in half lengthwise or crosswise and remove seeds. Coat lightly with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes to an hour at 375 degrees until tender.
To microwave: Cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Put cut sides up in a microwaveable dish with ¼ cup of water. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on high for 10-12 minutes until tender. Let stand covered for 5 minutes.
However you decided to cook it, once it’s done, use a fork to comb out and separate the strands. Discard the shell, or for style points, use it as a serving dish and put your finished spaghetti squash dish inside of it. After it’s cooked and the strands are separated, simply mix with some butter or olive oil and top with homemade or prepared spaghetti sauce and like magic, pasta-free spaghetti. Or branch out and use it in something a little more exciting like with peppers and sausage or in a basil gratin (recipes below).
So if you’re like me and the idea of squash for dinner has you running to the nearest “to-go” restaurant, give this unique veggie a shot and I’m pretty sure it will make you change your mind, even if just a tiny bit.
Handy Tip: The seeds can also be used. Just roast them as you would pumpkin seeds.
Spaghetti Squash with Sausage: Adapted from a recipe in the November 2010 Food Network Magazine – Serves 4
– 1 small spaghetti squash (about 2 lbs) – cooked with strands removed from shell and separated
– 2 tablespoons of olive oil
– salt and pepper
– 8 links of hot Italian sausage (pork, chicken, or turkey) – I used Aidells brand Italian style chicken and turkey sausage.
– 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
– 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
– 1 clove of garlic, chopped
– ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
– grated parmesan cheese for topping
1) Grill the sausages on a grill pan or on a cookie sheet under the broiler in the oven until done.
2) Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, onion and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until vegetables begin to brown, about 4 more minutes. Toss in the squash and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the sausages and sprinkle with Parmesan.
Fresh spaghetti squash
Spaghetti Squash Gratin with Basil: From “Recipes for Health” by the New York Times. – serves six
– 1 spaghetti squash, about 3 lbs – cooked with strands removed from shell
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 medium onion, finely chopped
– 2 garlic cloves, minced
– salt and pepper
– 3 large eggs
– ½ low-fat milk
– 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (1/4 cup basil leaves)
– 2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
– 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or pecorino romano
1) Coarsely chop the cooked spaghetti squash strands and measure out 4 cups
2) Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Add the squash. Cook, stirring often, for five minutes until the strands of squash are a little more tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from heat.
3) Beat the eggs in a large bowl and add the milk, ½ teaspoon of salt, pepper, and basil. Stir in the squash mixture and Gruyere, and combine well. Scrape into the baking dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan or pecorino on top and gently press down to moisten.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes until nicely browned and sizzling. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 to