spaghetti squash spectacular!
an american veggie keeps pace with italian cooking
by Laura Pazzaglia
(return to food)
I was recently presented with a challenge: a dinner guest on the Atkins (low carbohydrate) diet. How to create an Italian feast with no pasta, rice, potatoes or polenta? The answer came in a little-known Native American vegetable which is very compatible with Italian cooking.
My husband was both skeptical and confused. When I first made spaghetti squash he asked me where I found the time to make spaghetti by hand. Then, when I presented him with my low-carb menu for our dinner party he protested that "pumpkin is too sweet and won't work!"
Pumpkin, and several squashes including Butternut, are a little on the sweet side for the delicate Italian palate. However, what my husband didn't realize is that Spaghetti Squash is not a recipe for making spaghetti from just any squash; instead, it's it's own kind of squash that, when cooked, offers it's flesh in neat little strands that are the approximate the dimension of spaghetti!
This squash is a dream-come-true for any diet, a four-ounce serving of spaghetti squash has only 37 calories.
Get a firm squash in one of two colors
When buying spaghetti squash, look for hard fruit that is heavy for its size, about eight to nine inches in length and four to five inches in diameter and with a pale even color. Avoid any squash with soft spots and green color is a sign of immaturity. The average four-pound spaghetti squash will yield about five cups.
While a true spaghetti squash is pale ivory to pale yellow in color, in the early 1990's, an orange spaghetti squash, known as Orangetti was developed and this is what is frequently found in today's supermarkets. Higher in beta carotene, the orange variety is also bit sweeter than its paler counterpart, although both have a mild flavor that is easily enhanced by the food served with or on it.
Although the Spaghetti squash is relatively new in supermarkets and cookbooks it's been around for quite a while!
Great storage for American Indians with no refrigerators
Spaghetti Squash is a tough vegetable -- you can store a spaghetti squash in your home for several months, prior to using it. Because it can be stored for long periods of time, the natives of both North and South America used spaghetti squash as one of their dietary staples for many centuries.
Three ways to cook it & a couple of recipes
I've used both the Boil and "Bake w/tinfoil" methods. Personally, I prefer the "Bake w/tinfoil" method because boiling the squash makes the "Spaghetti" a bit soggy. I encourage you to experiment with these different methods until you find the one that works for you.
Here are a couple of recipes that I've tried on my own-- I encourage you to experiment with Spaghetti Squash by using different pasta sauces. The golden-color of the Spaghetti Squash flesh and it's delicate "nutty-but-not-sweet" taste really add to the presentation and flavor of your favorite Italian pasta sauces.
- Boil - Heat a pot of water large enough to hold the whole squash. When the water is boiling, drop in the squash and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on its size. When a fork goes easily into the flesh, the squash is done.
- Bake w/ Tinfoil- Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, cover the halves in tinfoil and bake in the oven for 1 hour at 375F - or until the flesh releases easily when poked with a fork.
- Microwave - Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Place squash cut sides up in a microwave dish with 1/4 cup water. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on high for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on size of squash. Add more cooking time if necessary. Let stand covered, for 5 minutes.
Laura's Spaghetti Squash in Sage-Butter Sauce
You can eat or grow the seeds!
Sage is the main flavor component to this dish. Be sure to only substitute the fresh leaves with dried if you are in a real pinch because this substitution will affect the entire flavor of the dish.
1 Medium Spaghetti Squash (3-4 lbs)
5 TBS of unsalted Butter
5 Fresh Sage Sprigs (or 1/2 cup of dried Sage Leaves)
Parmiggiano Reggiano (Parmesan Cheese) or Pecorino Romano to taste
salt to taste
pepper to taste
Prepare the Spaghetti Squash in the bake w/tinfoil method (as described above) -- but set the oven timer to 45 minutes. When the timer goes off poke the flesh of the squash halves with a fork to check their progress (if the flesh separates easily into strands you can start using it immediately). Otherwise, this is a great time to start working on the sauce. Place a large skillet on your burner an put it on low heat. Add the butter. Remove the sage leaves from the sprigs and add into the skillet (use the leaves whole, not chopped). Now, pull the Spaghetti Squash halves out of the oven (with pot-holders) and bring to a working surface of your counter-top. Use a fork to scoop out the stringy flesh into a bowl. When you are finished scooping out both halves fold the "spaghetti" in the skillet where the sage and butter are sizzling together. Pour all the "spaghetti" in the skillet, raise the flame a bit and stir the "spaghetti" around with a wooden spoon so that they are fully coated with the sage-butter sauce. At this time, I recommend adding a few twists from both your salt and pepper grinders (or shakes from the dispenser) to taste.
Serve with a light dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.
Chef's Note: If you're not used to cooking with butter, take note that it "burns" easily. When you are sizzling the sage keep an eye on the butter. If it begins to turn brown, remove the skillet from the flame immediately to stop it from cooking.
Laura's Spaghetti Squash Primavera
My mother always said that most Italian dishes, like this one, have ingredients that are the color of the Italian flag - red (tomatoes), white (onions and squash) and green (bell pepper and basil).
1 Medium Spaghetti Squash (3-4 lbs)
1/2 of a White Onion, chopped
2 Tomatoes, chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper, chopped & de-seeded
2 Sprigs of Fresh Basil, chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (and a less expensive olive oil)- see chef's note, below
salt to taste
pepper to taste
Prepare the Spaghetti Squash in the "bake w/tinfoil method" (as described above) -- but set the oven timer to 40 minutes. When the timer goes off you'll have 20 minutes to prepare the "sauce." Place a large skillet on your burner with 2TBS of Olive Oil on medium heat. Chop the Onion and add it to the oil. Chop the tomatoes and bell-pepper and add them to the skillet when the onion in the oil is slightly transparent. Now, pull the Spaghetti Squash halves out of the oven (with pot-holders) and bring them to a working surface of your counter-top. Use a fork to scoop out the stringy flesh into a bowl. When you are finished scooping out both halves fold the "spaghetti" in the skillet where the chopped veggies are sizzling together. Pour all the "spaghetti" in the skillet, raise the flame a bit and stir the "spaghetti" around with a wooden spoon so that they are fully mixed with veggies and olive oil. Add a few twists from both your salt and pepper grinders to taste.
Sprinkle with freshly chopped basil and extra-virgin olive oil before serving.
This dish can also be served at room temperature as a salad.
Chef's Note: Olive Oil looses it's flavor and potency when heated. Consider using 2 TBS of a less-expensive Olive Oil for the skillet and then use 1TBS of the Extra-Virgin Oil to dress the "spaghetti" before serving.
Spaghetti squash is a member of the winter squash family. This family also includes pumpkins and butternut squash. It is a vegetable that can be grown easily; it is sown in May and germinates two weeks after sowing. A word of caution -- the vines can take up to 100 sq ft in the garden, so if you don't have a roomy garden, consider planting only 1-2 seeds.
You can eat the rest of the seeds raw, or lightly toasted with salt.