Health, Recipes

Spaghetti Squash 101

Maybe 2017 is the year you are trying to find some new and fresh ways to enjoy veggies or maybe you know you just need to eat more of them! Spaghetti squash is a super fun vegetable for parents and kids alike!  Who isn’t intrigued by a big yellow gourd that when cooked and cut produces angel hair strands of squash that mimics the appearance of noodles?!

Well, if you haven’t ever ventured to try spaghetti squash or you have walked past them in the market dozens of times not knowing exactly what it was, walk no further!  This is a veggie you NEED to try!

Spaghetti squash is actually a winter squash that is usually available year round.  While the bright yellow oblong outer shape is reminiscent of pumpkin with a suntan, it is much less starchy and has a mild squash flavor. Since it is over 90% water by weight, it is quite low in calories.  In fact, spaghetti squash boasts impressively low calories and carbohydrates, making it an ideal substitute for noodles or pasta in your favorite recipes.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 1 cup of these angel hair strands has only 40 calories!  That is about 180 calories LESS THAN a 2 ounce serving of traditional pasta (even whole grain, whole wheat, brown rice and quinoa pasta)!  Impressed!?!

Does it taste like pasta?  Well, it probably depends on who you ask and what recipe you make. Because it is not as starchy, it doesn’t have the same chew as traditional pasta.  The squash flavor is very mild, making it a great vegetable to mix with marinara sauce or top with grated parmesan and herbs.  It is definitely worth a try and when in doubt, mix with your usual pasta or noodles to try it out!

Having made spaghetti squash many times, I have tried various methods of cooking. It can be cooked whole or halved, microwaved or roasted. While microwaving is the fastest method, cooking the squash in about 10-12 minutes total (the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta), my experience is that the squash often ends up a bit watery (it is more than 90% water!). Roasting, my preferred method, helps remove excess water through evaporation but will end up costing you 45-60 minutes, something most of us don’t have, especially on a weeknight.

Another challenge I have found with spaghetti squash (and any hard, winter squash for that matter) is that they are VERY difficult to cut before cooking!  Because they are cylindrical, they are difficult to hold steady while rocking your knife to cut through.  This increases the risk of knife injuries and general frustration!

So, my spaghetti squash how-to takes the best of both methods to make it delicious, quicker and less frustrating!

Spaghetti Squash 101

Begin by choosing a spaghetti squash that has a nice bright banana yellow color. Don’t be deceived…the small ones produce a lot of spaghetti!  For 4 nice size servings, look for a squash about 2 ½ pounds.  If you aren’t sure if it is a spaghetti squash, look for a sticker or tag as they are usually labeled.

Pierce the skin 10-12 times all around the squash with a sharp knife (or fork).  Don’t forget this step or you might end up with a science experiment explosion! Place in the microwave and cook on high for 6-7 minutes, depending on the size of your squash.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees while squash is microwaving.

Using oven mitts or pot holders, remove the hot spaghetti squash from the microwave and allow to sit on a cutting board for 2-4 minutes to slightly cool.

Carefully cut in half.  There will be a lot of steam trying to escape so be careful not to burn yourself, however, it will be tender and much easier to cut than when raw.

Using a spoon, remove the seeds and pulp in the middle, leaving the fleshy outer shell.  Spray with oil or rub ½ tsp olive or canola oil on the flesh and then sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.

NOTE: I use a Misto Oil Sprayer to spray my preferred oil directly on food. This gadget is amazing!  Pump it up with air and then spray any food or surface for a nice even coat.  HOWEVER, I do not recommend using most oil spray brands you can find at the grocery store.  These have additional ingredients other than oil and I don’t recommend spraying this directly on food.  If you don’t have an oil spritzer (GET ONE!), you can simply rub the squash with a little bit of oil.

Roast squash on a sheet pan in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until flesh is tender.  Strands of noodles will easily rake away from the skin with a fork. And to be honest, this is the fun part!  Get your kids involved… just take a dinner fork and begin raking back the strands of “pasta”.

Most people love using spaghetti squash as a pasta alternative for traditional spaghetti recipes to save calories and carbs.  However, there are dozens of recipes with a new spin or a different twist.

These are a few recipe ideas you might like to try:

Turkey Taco Spaghetti Squash Boats

Veggie Filled Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

Spaghetti Squash Fritters

Roasted Spaghetti Squash Seeds

There is no shame in tossing the seeds and pulp into the trash as you are scooping out the innards! But, if you are a fan of roasted seeds for a crunchy snack, you may just want to give this round 2 recipe a try!

Place the pulp with seeds into a strainer and rinse under cool running water to separate the seeds from the pulp.  Place the seeds on paper towels or a dish towel and pat dry.  My 2 ½ pound spaghetti squash yielded about ⅓ cup of seeds.  After the spaghetti squash has finished roasting, reduce heat to 300 degrees.

Mix the dry squash seeds with 1 tsp oil, ⅛ tsp salt, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.  Add any additional spices as desired (cayenne, garlic powder, curry, etc).  I added a pinch of smoked paprika. Place seeds on a small sheet pan and roast for 15-20 minutes.

They are done when lightly brown and begin making a popping noise.  Enjoy as a snack or add to the top your favorite salad!

TRUTH:  Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Genesis 1:29 (NIV)

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