The Spectacular Spaghetti Squash

Of all the winter squashes, spaghetti squash is my new favorite. It is one of the larger squashes, and its flesh is yellow and milder in flavor than a butternut or an acorn squash. It certainly doesn’t look a whole lot like spaghetti in its gourd form, but once it’s been cooked, the flesh peels off like strands of vermicelli.

So which came first–spaghetti the pasta or spaghetti the squash? I was always amazed when I watched a TV chef peel off the squash flesh in strands. I remember one particular episode of Emeril in which he kept talking about the spaghetti squash, and I made a mental note that I would try substituting spaghetti squash for spaghetti pasta one time, just to make a pasta dish healthier (apparently, this is actually possible). Anyway, I opted to make mine into a sort of gratin with chanterelle mushrooms, cream, and Gruyere cheese.

Spaghetti Squash Bake (from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison)

– a 3-pound-ish spaghetti squash
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly butter a rimmed baking sheet. Carefully poke a few small slits with a sharp knife on each “side” of the squash. Bake for 1.5-2 hours, then let cool. (I let mine cool down while I went out to run errands)

– 1 package dried chanterelle mushrooms
– 2 tablespoons butter
– salt and pepper
– 1 cup cream
2. Rehydrate the chanterelles according to package directions.

3. Melt the butter in a small skillet. When foamy, add the rinsed mushrooms. Saute for 10-15 minutes over medium-high heat. Add salt and pepper. Add the cream and let it bubble away about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the cream bubbles under control.

4. Meanwhile, cut your spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and seed-pulp (just like in a pumpkin). Next, use a fork to scrape the inside of the flesh–it will come off in clumpy strands. Get as much as you can out of each half of the squash.

– 2 tablespoons butter
5. In another skillet, melt the butter and heat the squash pulp through, letting excess moisture evaporate.

– 1 cup Gruyere cheese (or parmesan, or whatever you’ve got on hand)
6. Lightly grease a casserole dish. Pour in the squash, then the cream/mushroom mixture, and top with a handful of cheese. Bake at 375F for 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.

We enjoyed ours with the ridiculously simple chocolate chicken which I wrote about here. Alex is not normally a big squash fan. He grimaces when we have summer squash, complaining about both the texture and the taste. He has been more accepting of winter squash (perhaps because I usually try to trick him into thinking its sweet potatoes?). He was impressed with how mild the spaghetti squash’s “squashiness” is, and he reports that its texture almost felt like he was eating some sort of pasta bake.

If you like mushrooms, certainly other varieties could be substituted for the chanterelles. Cremini is my standard, go-to mushroom. And if you’re not a mushroom fan, I think this dish could very well be made without them, you may just want to reduce the cream to about 3/4 or even 1/2 cup, depending on how much flesh your squash yields.

What about you? Do you have a favorite winter squash? Have you ever tried a spaghetti squash? Or tricked a picky eater into enjoying a healthy vegetable? Do tell!

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