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Dead serious.  Replace pasta with squash.  I know it sounds strange, but when you’re in the mood to try something new, make it this bright yellow squash.  It’s light, tender and unique, not to mention far less guilt-inducing than real pasta.

Now in case you couldn’t tell from the banner on the homepage, I really like squash and pumpkin.  I think that they are some of the most versatile vegetables out there (I know they are technically fruits, really I do… it just doesn’t seem right to call them fruits); they are hearty enough to be made into a vegetarian main course, light enough to be roasted and added to a winter salad, and smooth enough in flavor and texture to be blended right into a soup.

Such a bright, happy looking squash!

Well… most of them are smooth in texture.  The spaghetti squash is the odd man out.  When roasted and cut in half, the flesh really does look like spaghetti, hence the name.  The texture doesn’t really lend itself to soup (I’ve tried), and it doesn’t have enough flavor to really stand on its own in a salad or sauce-less dish (again… tried, but no cigar).  What the tender yet crisp texture and almost bland flavor do lend themselves to is pasta dishes.  And for someone who LOVES pasta dishes (did I mention I spent a year in Italy?), finding a relatively light alternative to pasta is a great prize.

To be perfectly honest, my boyfriend was not happy when I told him what we were eating (although he loves pesto, so that helped), but he’s really great about trying things.  And this dish grew on him with every bite, so that by the time that he had taken about 8 bites, it was a hit.  Don’t get me wrong… I am not going to try to sell this as pasta.  The flavor and texture are certainly different.  But if you like pasta, but are in the mood for a dish that is a little bit lighter or can’t have gluten products and are tired of rice pasta, do try this (but omit bread crumbs if you’re GF).

When I can find spaghetti squash that looks good (avoid them if the spot where the stem was attached is black or it has mushy spots), I buy one and store it in a dark cool spot until I’m ready to use it.  They’ll stay good for a few weeks, or even longer if you have a cellar.

While you can use just about any sauce, I’m partial to pesto with my spaghetti squash.  It’s light, earthy flavor is the perfect complement to the mild, crisp strands of spaghetti squash.  I’ve done this with both traditional pesto (basil and pine nuts) and walnut parsley pesto, and both are great.  For this round I used basil, and threw in a little bit of the baby spinach that was leftover from the quiche that I made the other night.  Great way to make this dish even healthier!  This recipe can be quick and easy (microwave the squash, add pesto and eat) or a little more involved (bake the squash, then bake the whole dish).  No need to be intimidated, make it your own!

To start, you need to prep and roast the spaghetti squash.  This is way easier than it sounds, and you have options.  If you’ve prepped spaghetti squash before skip ahead.

Option 1: If you have roughly an hour to spare, poke holes in the squash with a really sharp knife, set it in a glass baking dish, and put it in an oven that is heated to 375.  Take the squash out when you can easily poke a knife through the skin.  This could take as little as 45 minutes or as much as an hour.
Option 2: More time-friendly.  Poke holes in the squash (or be she-woman and cut the squash in half, remove seeds/fibers and rub a little olive oil in the middle), put it into a microwave-safe baking dish and microwave it in increments of 6 minutes, turning it over after each increment so that it spends a little time on each side.  It should take 15-20 minutes until it’s tender (you’ll be able to push the sides in a little, or stick the knife through the skin easily).

Note- when poking holes, don't point the knife towards your hand like I did in the picture. I had already poked holes before the picture, and didn't notice how dangerous my picture posing was until just now. Safety first!

Meanwhile, when you have about 15 minutes left on your cooking time, depending on which method you chose, get ready to make your pesto!  If microwaving, you can make the pesto first so that your squash stays warm.  Toast the pine nuts in a pan on the stove top, no oil or cooking spray needed, stirring or shaking pan frequently.  This will take roughly 5 minutes and when they are done they will only be one shade darker than they started, but they will have released a little of their natural oil and they will smell great. Let them cool for a minute or two (this can be done ahead).

Put the basil, spinach, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan and salt & pepper into a food processor (or blender if you don’t have a food processor) and process until all of the leaves and pine nuts are uniform in size.

Then add olive oil until its emulsified and a bit ‘liquidy’ (I know, I know, I keep making up words in these posts).  I find that it takes a slightly different amount of olive oil each time, as little as 1/2 cup or as much as 2/3 cup, so just keep an eye on it.  Taste it when you think it’s done, just to be sure… you can add garlic, salt, pepper or more grated cheese if necessary.

The pesto should be smooth in consistency and bright green in color.

Back to your squash.  When you remove the squash from the oven, let it cool for a little while.  (The holes you poked in it will help to release a little steam.  At least we can hope so.)  When it’s cool enough to touch, put on an oven mitt, grab that really sharp knife again, and cut it in half.  Scoop out the middle part just like you would a pumpkin, getting rid of the seeds and orange fibrous parts, stopping if you start to see spaghetti-like strands pulling up.  Throw that stuff away (you can see it on the side of my cutting board in the awful photo below, the left half has been scooped, right has not). 

Now grab a fork and scrape out the ‘spaghetti.’  All it takes is lightly running the fork across the flesh.  As opposed to the orange color of the fibers we took out above, the spaghetti is tender and yellow.  Eat a forkful, just so you know what you’re working with.  Bravo!

To make a really quick and easy dish, just mix the pesto and spaghetti squash together.  If the squash has cooled off, add the squash with the pesto into a pan on the stove top over medium to medium high heat, add a little olive oil, and cook until heated through.

For the baked dish pictured here, mix up the squash and pesto, and place into a greased baking dish.  I had pesto leftover, so I put it in the fridge and will put it on pasta this weekend.  Top with Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs/panko (clearly from the pictures we tried it with and without breadcrumbs… ‘with’ won!), and put a few really thin pieces of butter on top or drizzle with a small amount of olive oil.  Place back into the oven just until it’s browned.  Or if your squash had too much time to cool, cover it with foil for about 15 minutes in the oven, then remove and cook until the breadcrumbs brown.  Then your Parmesan won’t brown as much as mine did (although they tasted crispy and wonderful).  If you can’t have gluten, it’s also good without the breadcrumbs.  Never fear!

When the top browns, pull it out of the oven and serve with a green salad.  You could even add garlic bread.  Enjoy this tasty pasta alternative!

Breadcrumbs on right, no breadcrumbs on the left. It was a really scientific taste test.

Spaghetti Squash with Basil Spinach Pesto

1 spaghetti squash
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or panko for topping
Parmesan and butter or olive oil for sprinkling over dish

1 1/2 cups  fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
2 cloves of garlic (3 if really small)
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts *
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or slightly more)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2-2/3 cups olive oil

*Toast in pan on stovetop, no oil/cooking spray needed, for 5 minutes or until they turn one shade darker (should not quite reach brown, more of a golden color)

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Grease small casserole dish.

2.  To prep: Roast or microwave the spaghetti squash.  See options below**

3.  While squash is roasting, place all pesto ingredients except olive oil into food processor or blender, chop until no large chunks remain.  Add olive oil gradually until the pesto reaches a smooth consistency.

4. When the squash can be easily pierced by a knife, remove it from oven or microwave and let cool slightly.  Cut in half and remove  seeds and tough fibers (will be an orange color compared to the yellow flesh).  Then use a fork to gently scrape out the ‘spaghetti’ strands.

5. Mix pesto and squash in a medium size bowl until well combined.  Eat as is, or place in casserole dish for a baked pesto dish.  If baking, sprinkle with Parmesan, then top with breadcrumbs/panko.  Dot with thin slivers of butter or drizzle with olive oil.  Bake until heated through and golden brown.

**  Option 1: 45-60 minutes.   Carefully poke holes in spaghetti squash with sharp knife.  Place in baking dish and put in oven until sides can be easily pierced with a knife.

Option 2: 15-20 minutes.  Carefully poke holes in spaghetti squash with sharp knife.  Place in microwave safe dish and microwave in 6 minute intervals (turning squash after each) until sides of squash give slightly under pressure or can be easily pierced with knife.

Print Recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Basil Spinach Pesto