Monday, October 13, 2014

Spaghetti Squash: Is There Anything It Can't Do?

Spaghetti squash is just about a staple here. Since it's gluten-free AND a vegetable, I'm happy to chow down on it to my heart's content, and the kids think it's kinda cool that a squash can make pasta in the first place, so the novelty got them hooked - that and lots of butter and garlic and salt, and on a good day, PESTO!

Spaghetti squash is so named because when cooked, the flesh becomes stringy when scooped out of the shell (I use a fork), like thin pasta noodles. ("Vermicelli squash" just doesn't have the same ring to it. LOL)

Since I have friends who live in places that don't have this miracle of nature (which seems to be limited to the US and some availability in the UK as far as I can make out) and because a lot of people just don't know what to do with a squash that doesn't lend itself to the usual uses of squash/zucchini......


Choosing a squash is pretty basic: You want it to be yellow and firm, pretty much blemish-free - at least no soft spots. If it's too green, it isn't fully ripe. I try for one about the size of an American football so I can have some leftovers once the kids are done chowing down on it, but you can get a smaller one to start with. The Food Network has a paragraph devoted to the selection and basic uses for this tasty veggie here. (Note: there are links to other recipes under the paragraph so if you're feeling adventurous, just jump off and have fun! The Lemon-Caper recipe looks like one I'd love, although I seem to be the only person in my house who likes capers. *sigh*)

There are plenty of online tutorials on how to cook and prepare spaghetti squashes that come down to two basic methods: oven baking or microwaving. I usually use the latter depending on how much time I have and whether I was planning to heat up the oven in the first place; there's nothing appealing about heating up the oven on a scorching muggy mid-Atlantic summer day, even if the result is an otherwise-light enough side dish. To do this, I pierce the squash all over with a fork or knife; without this step, the squash is likely to explode when the liquid inside turns to steam as part of the cooking process, and I don't even want to imagine the inside of my microwave or oven with that mess. *shudder* Once that's done, I microwave for 4-5 minutes to start and check to see if the shell is soft. If it's soft all the way around, it's done cooking! If it needs more time, I turn the squash over - careful, it'll be HOT! - and give it another 2 minutes or so. Once the shell is soft, I take it out and let it cool a little before slicing it in half lengthwise - again, be careful when you slice, because a lot of steam will be released as you open the squash. Scoop out seeds and pulp and then use a fork to fluff the pulp. At this point I usually transfer it to a bowl or casserole dish and slather it with butter and/or olive oil and/or whatever sauce we may be using: pasta sauce from a jar, pesto, homemade meat sauce, whatever you'd use on regular pasta. The texture is a bit crunchier than al dente pasta, but it's a great vehicle for sauces, and because the squash flavor is relatively bland, it really needs.... well, something.

If you prefer to bake your squash, I've seen two ways to do it: bake it whole - again, don't forget to pierce it all over first! at 375F for about an hour, or cut it in half, which is HARD because the shell is pretty solid, so make sure you have a good sharp strong knife, scoop out the seeds, place the halves face down on a baking dish with a little water and bake for 40-45 minutes at 350F. If I've already got the oven in use for something else, then I'll go ahead and just put the squash in there too.

So now you have a basic spaghetti squash tutorial. Now what? In our house I usually keep it simple because this is something I can make in a hurry - and then I realize I'm out of time so I have no choice but to keep it simple: butter/olive oil, salt, garlic - voila! If I'm really organized, a jar of pasta sauce. If I'm REALLY organized, fresh pesto (OMG, so very very yum!). But the simplicity seems kind of anticlimactic, so I'm combing the Interwebz for some more complex ideas (and inspiration for the big honkin' squash on my kitchen counter right now!).

Here's one that looks tasty and doable: From the Food Network, we have a Spaghetti Squash Bake: All you need is a squash, a jar of sauce, some mozzarella, and some basil (click on link for specific amounts)....
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice squash in half and place fleshside down in a baking dish. Add 1/4-inch of water. Bake for 40 minutes, or until tender and remove. Rake squash with a fork, creating "spaghetti" strands. Spoon on sauce, mozzarella, and basil. Place back in oven and bake until cheese begins to bubble. Serve warm. 

Yeah, I think I could do that. :-)

I also came across this way from Steamy Kitchen to prepare the squash: baking it, then sauteeing it with yummy stuff like garlic and basil.... *drool* Yeah, I think I'm going to HAVE to try this! Yes, I'm making you link to her page for the recipe so she gets the traffic. :-) And I'm happy to have found another cooking blog I like (plus her writing style is so much fun!).

Is the stuff even good for you? Well, yeah! I'm a fan of the site Nutrition Data's profiles; I find them pretty complete, and I like the way they graphically represent the different nutrients (carbs, proteins, vitamins, micronutrients). Here's how spaghetti squash shakes out: Most of the calories are carbs, but on the whole it's not a high-carb food at 10g of carbs per serving. Not a big source of protein, but as a veggie, and one usually served as a side dish anyway, it's not meant to be. A decent source of Vitamin C and most of the B vitamins too. :-) A fairly filling food (even more so with butter and olive oil - those good fats also provide satiety!), and honestly, a nice comfort food in Winter while being light enough for Summer too!

So there ya have it: a basic introduction to the humble Spaghetti Squash. Bon Appetit!

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