Weekend Dish column: Spaghetti squash spaghetti is delightful
The surrounding mountains of our valley are ablaze with the vivid colors that precede the great freeze. It feels like summer gave way to fall overnight this week, while winter is just around the corner. Blink, and you’ll miss the changing leaves, but there are still some good things to enjoy from our sleepy gardens.
It’s the season of jack-o’-lanterns, inappropriately early Christmas commercials, and autumn harvests. While it is still too soon to think about Christmas, it is the perfect time to enjoy the many different squash varieties.
Although many kinds of squash are available now, they are called winter squash because they can keep well into the winter. These squash are often associated with Thanksgiving and yes, even Christmas, as both food and decorations.
While pumpkins get most of the glory right now, one of my favorite kinds of squash is Italian at heart and by name. Spaghetti squash or vegetable spaghetti is a vegetarian’s dream. It is also low carb for those who count their calories.
Serves 4-5 people.
1 spaghetti squash, baked
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (15 ounces) San Marzano whole tomatoes
1 large tomato
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 Tofurky Italian sausage, sliced
1 can (6.5 ounces) black olives, sliced and drained
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven 375F.
- Divide spaghetti squash in half, and gently scoop out loose seeds and strands. Brush with olive oil and bake for at least an hour or until sides give.
- While spaghetti squash bakes in the oven began to prepare the sauce. In a medium saucepan, combine onion, garlic cloves, tomatoes, bell pepper, Tofurky (or other meat), olives, basil, and seasonings.
- Cook uncovered over medium-high heat to reduce liquid while spaghetti squash bakes.
- Spaghetti squash is ready when the sides give way to a gentle prod. Strands will also separate easily with a fork. Using a fork, scrape out the contents of each baked half.
- Combine spaghetti squash, sauce, and mozzarella cheese into a casserole dish. Bake the casserole for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.
- Serve immediately with garlic bread, caesar salad, and the red wine of your choice. Leftovers can be frozen for later enjoyment.
Spaghetti squash comes in all shapes and sizes. They can range in color from pale ivory to bright orange. The best part of spaghetti squash is its stringy, fleshy, and pulpy heart. But it doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve easily, and the real magic happens after it is cooked.
Properly cooking spaghetti squash reveals stringy strands that resemble spaghetti noodles. Spaghetti squash can be steamed, boiled, baked and even microwaved.
There are plenty of ways to serve spaghetti squash, too. Some people like to bake them and add butter with either salt or cinnamon and sugar (such as my grandmother). Other people prefer more elaborate concoctions with meatballs, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, or with lemon and cream sauce.
Spaghetti squash contains many nutrients such as folic acid, potassium, vitamin A and beta carotene. These nutrients help protect DNA, improve heart health, protect eyesight, and promote healthy skin, respectively. At only 42 calories per cup, it is also low in calories, depending on the preparation, and high in fiber, which promotes digestive health.
The flavor profile can also vary drastically, depending on the preparation. On its own, it has a mild and neutral flavor, so it can pick up more complex characteristics, depending upon spices and seasonings. The strands or “noodles” can be a little watery and crunchy, but they certainly make a satisfying substitute for regular pasta noodles.
The most common way to cook spaghetti squash is to cut it in half and roast it in an oven or a baking pan. It is best to place the cut side down and brush the insides with olive oil when baking it.
Cutting a spaghetti squash in half – instead of lengthwise – helps it cook more quickly and evenly, but it is not necessary to halve it either. You can cook an entire, uncut squash in the oven, but it takes longer. Make sure to poke holes in it to allow venting. It can take about an hour to cook a spaghetti squash, and I recommend turning it over about halfway through the process.
Cook the squash until it is tender enough to run a fork through it, and the noodle strands fall out. Slicing a squash in half can be a daunting task, so it’s best to use a sharp, long knife.
Spaghetti squash is both delicious and decorative. It can make a seasonally appropriate centerpiece for any holiday event. It can also be stored in a cool place for months before spoiling.
To tell if your squash is still fresh, check the stem first. It should be dry and firm instead of black or mushy. The shell should be consistently yellow and firm without brown spots.
After baking and scraping out the strands, it is also possible to freeze leftover spaghetti squash nearly indefinitely. You can make meal-sized portions for freezing and then reheat them later when you want a quick and nutritious meal.
For this week’s recipe, I prepared my favorite variation of spaghetti squash: spaghetti squash spaghetti casserole. There are a few ways to prepare it like pasta, but I opted to make it as a casserole. It can pair nicely with a Caesar salad, garlic bread, and your favorite red wine.
This baked casserole is simple, delicious and low-carb. It can be vegan, vegetarian, or loaded with meat, too. For my variation, I added mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, olives, garlic, onions, marinara sauce, and Tofurky. If you want to add meat, then add one pound of lean ground beef.
The weather outside isn’t quite yet frightful, but this spaghetti squash spaghetti casserole is so delightful.
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