Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cooking Spaghetti Squash

Two Large Plates of Spaghetti Squash
From 4.5 lb. Squash

Recipe by Robin

Many people have resolved to lose weight in 2012, and to start losing it as soon as possible. I wouldn’t mind knocking off 5 or 10 lbs. myself, which is not that easy for a food blogger with a sedentary day job and a whole lot of persimmons to cook up. Nonetheless, I believe that over time small choices can make a big difference—like choosing to eat spaghetti squash in place of regular pasta. It’s filling and satisfying, and doesn’t have the addictive textural quality that wheat pasta seems to for me. Plus, spaghetti squash still available in stores from last autumn’s harvest, and is often discounted.

We usually start with a squash that weighs around 5 lbs. This yields about 4 hearty meals for my husband and myself, when paired with any sort of veggies in tomato sauce and a salad. Tonight we are serving it with Baked Tomato Sauce that I made and froze last September, and some mini turkey meatballs (recipe later this week).

Scraping Seeds out with Spoon
Remove Seeds with Spoon
I like to prepare the spaghetti squash in advance, because although it’s simple, it can take an hour or more to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake it. You want to allow time to cook it thoroughly, or the texture can be dry or stringy, not a convincing substitute for pasta at all! It’s easy to heat up in the microwave in a serving bowl, or on individual plates topped with the (just thawed?) topping of your choice.

Speaking of microwaving, last year I microwaved a 7 lb. spaghetti squash. Believe it or not, there was a label with microwave instructions stuck to the squash. In theory this is a good idea—the squash cooks from the moisture within itself. But, I would not try it again with a large squash (and have seen very few small spaghetti squashes). It’s hard to tell how “done” it is getting from the outside, it requires constant monitoring while cooking to avoid exploding, and it’s hot and steamy as heck when you slice it open, even after allowing it to rest. Also, the taste of the seeds—raw seeds—seemed noticeable in the “spaghetti” strands. And, IF there happens to be a bad spot, you won’t see it, and the rotten flavor could well permeate the good parts as well.

Removing Skin from Squash After Baking
Use Spoon to Separate Squash from Skin
The simpler method is to bake it in water, similar to my Baked Butternut recipe. It takes longer than microwaving, but you won’t need to stand by the oven to “squash-sit” while it cooks, listening for sounds that could lead to explosion.

This was the first spaghetti squash I’d ever seen with a bad spot. There was slight greyish discoloration of the skin outside, and the flesh was soft and spongy. The spot was easy to scoop out, then I cut around the edges with a knife to remove about ¼ inch of the adjacent area.  The remainder of the squash tastes fine. So if you happen to find a squishy-texture area on your squash, just cut it out and bake as usual.

Preparing Spaghetti Squash for Cooking

It’s difficult to slice a large, hard squash exactly in half, and doesn’t matter in terms of cooking or presentation how equal the halves are. Expertvillage has posted a great video for slicing spaghetti squash with a large, sharp knife. We use a similar method in that we begin in the middle and cut towards the edges, but we use a large cleaver and a rubber mallet. Tap the cleaver into the spaghetti squash from the middle to each end, similar to the slicing motion in the video, and it will break in half, sooner or later. Proceed slowly and carefully.

Scoop out the seeds and fine orange fibers. These fibers are not the “spaghetti,” which is the yellow flesh that will separate into strands when cooked.

Cooking Spaghetti Squash

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place halves upside-down in a baking dish and fill with about ¾” of water.  Put baking pan into preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. When done, the surface will hold a slight dent when pressed with a spoon back.

Fork Separating Spaghetti Strands
Separate "Spaghetti" Strands with Fork
Making the “Spaghetti”

Using potholders or tongs, remove squash from water and invert on plate to cool.

When cool enough to handle, either scoop out by pulling a fork lengthwise “against the grain,” or run a spoon just inside the skin to pop the flesh out, then separate the strands with a fork.

Eating the “Spaghetti”

Serve topped with tomato sauce, sautéed veggies, meatballs, grated cheese, ratatoille, or whatever else you like.

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