Monday, September 29, 2008

Discovering Spaghetti Squash

One of the most popular ingredient features we have at is my article on Spaghetti Squash. I think a lot of people are enamored of the idea of a healthy, low calorie, low carb vegetable that can be substituted for pasta.

If that's your sole reason for using this vegetable, I predict you'll be disappointed. While spaghetti squash does have long pasta strands, the texture is not quite the same, nor is the taste. Which is not to say that spaghetti squash isn't great served with any number of pasta sauces. It's just that, for me, it won't exactly "cure" a pasta craving (luckily I don't get those too often).

Now that I've gotten that little bit of editorializing out of the way, I will proudly state that I am a fan of this vegetable. It's versatile and cheap for two things, not to mention the above mentioned health qualities -- a dieter's dream, a four-ounce serving of spaghetti squash has only 37 calories. Spaghetti squash also offers cooks a lot of creative space, as its mild neutral flavor can adapt to all kinds of flavors and cooking styles.

Buying and Storing Spaghetti Squash
Averaging from 4 to 8 pounds, the cylinder shaped spaghetti squash is generally available year-round with a peak season from early fall through winter. 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.

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.

Spaghetti Squash can be stored at room temperature for about a month. After cutting, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days.

Spaghetti squash also freezes well. Pack cooked squash into freezer bags, seal, label and freeze. Partially thaw before re-using, then steam until tender but still firm, about 5 minutes.

Cooking Spaghetti Squash
Every spaghetti squash recipe I've ever seen starts with precoked squash that is already separated into pasta like strands. You have several ways of accomplishing this task:

  • Bake It -- Pierce the whole shell several times with a large fork or skewer and place in baking dish. Cook squash in preheated 375 degree F oven approximately 1 hour or until flesh is tender.

  • Boil It -- 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.

  • Microwave It -- 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. With fork "comb" out the strands.

  • Slow Cooker - Choose a smaller spaghetti squash (unless you have an extra large slow cooker) so that it will fit. Add 2 cups of water to slow cooker. Pierce the whole shell several times with a large fork or skewer, add to slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 8 to 9 hours.

Once the squash is cooked, let it cool for 10 to 20 minutes so it will be easier to handle, before cutting in half (if it wasn't already) and removing the seeds. Pull a fork lengthwise through the flesh to separate it into long strands. (See photos.)

Prepare spaghetti squash ahead of time, then you have it ready for recipes whenever the mood strikes.

Spaghetti Squash Recipes

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