Tuesday, March 22, 2011

[How To] Discover Spaghetti Squash

Like many writers, I like to take inspiration for stories from my friends or family's questions and general inquiries. This week, a dear friend of several years asked me for a recommendation for something new but relatively quick. 

My friend, we'll call her Molly, is a mother of three high-energy pre-school to elementary-aged boys. While she has the help of her husband, life is busy. Between scheduling neighborhood play-dates for each of her boys, keeping up with organizations she's involved with, cleaning the house and spending quality time as a family...somewhere in the mix, cooking dinner has been a rushed chore with a repertoire limited by time constraints. 

Molly says they eat many Italian-inspired meals because it's quick, relatively cheap and easy to prepare. She also relies on her crock pot slow cooker quite a bit, but desires to branch out from these culinary habits. 

So what was a suggestion I had for her? Spaghetti Squash. While she wasn't familiar with the wondrous vegetable, after I talked about its benefits I realized many people may be in the same boat as Molly. So this post is dedicated to discovering spaghetti squash for those who would like to for the first time.


So the most basic [and important] thing to learn is what a spaghetti squash looks like. How else are you going to find it in your market? So I took a series of pictures preparing it in the most basic form--taking it from it's raw to cooked state. Here is a picture of what the veggie will look like in your market: 
The cooking recommendations I have for spaghetti squash is to cut it in half and bake in the oven on 375 degrees for an hour. Cutting it in half is easier said than done, however. Use a [sharpened] chef knife to complete this task with all fingers in tact. Here's what it will look like after you've successfully cut the veggie in half:
Next, you'll want to use a spoon and get all the seeds and gunk out of the center. Remember carving pumpkins as a kid? This step is very similar to prepping a pumpkin for carving; you don't want to carve into the firm edge of the veggie. Here's what it should look like when you're done: 

The next step is super easy--just get a baking sheet pan and put the two sides face down and place it in the oven on 375 degrees for an hour. I like to line the pan with foil to make an easier clean up: 

 After the spaghetti squash has baked for an hour, be very careful when flipping it over. The veggie will be very hot for several minutes, so use an oven-mit. It should look like this: 

 Now comes the fun part. Next, take a dinner fork and scrape from one side to the other width-wise of the veggie. You'll notice before you begin that the baking process has changed the interior to a fibrous-looking texture. It will look like this as you begin the process: 
Those "spaghetti-looking" fibers will scrape out to become the squash veggie we all know, but in a spaghetti form. As you scrape out the complete contents of each side, it will yield between 4-6 Cups of vegetable-noodles, depending on the size of the squash. As you finish, it will look like this: 
So now what do you do with the mound of spaghetti squash once it's cooked? No worries, you can do anything you want! You can treat the squash as a spaghetti starch substitute if you're wanting to cut down the carbs and enjoy it with a pasta sauce. Or if you'd rather serve it as a side dish, saute it with a tablespoon of butter and top with Parmesan cheese for a velvety addition to any meal. 
Nutrition & Fun Facts

The best thing about spaghetti squash is you put it in the oven for an hour and you don't have to do a thing to it for the whole hour. No flipping, no oiling or anything. Very easy, and very healthy. It's a dieters dream vegetable--a whole Cup serving only has 42 calories, 0.4 g fat, 10g carbs and 1g protein (according to Prevention Magazine's Nutrition Facts). Most markets will carry spaghetti squash year-round, but the peak season is late fall through winter. If you're a bargain hunter, take note that it will also be cheaper during peak season.

Next time you're browsing your neighborhood produce section, save a spot in your shopping cart for a spaghetti squash. It's a fun and easy way to incorporate an additional whole food to any meal. And this is a menu item even the busiest of mothers can single-handedly prepare while solving the latest neighborhood play-date dispute. I can't wait to hear the verdict from Molly and her family. If you're a veteran spaghetti squash user, post a recipe for the newbies. More the merrier. Enjoy! 


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