Pity the poor spaghetti squash.
“It’s not one of the more popular ones,” says Ann Sutton of Maryland’s Deep Roots Farm. “In all my years at market, it’s the one squash I sell the least of.”
In terms of seasonal gourds, spaghetti squash doesn’t have everything going for it. It’s the odd one out — pretty bland and with a flesh so completely unlike other smoother, more vibrant farmers market staples such as butternut, kabocha, acorn and delicata. And then there’s the expectation set up by the name, the self-fulfilling prophecy that the strands of squash resemble regular wheat-based pasta.
Despite its quirks, the spaghetti squash is a versatile, nutritious and readily available ingredient. Here’s how to make sense of it.
Cook it right. Overcooked, mushy spaghetti squash isn’t necessarily appealing and may not even hold its characteristic shape. Food editor Joe Yonan pointed me to the Chocolate Covered Katie blog where founder Katie Higgins says you can do better than the typical advice to roast the squash in a pan of water: “I think this is a mistake because the extra water and lower temperature mean you end up with watery, steamed spaghetti squash instead of sweet, roasted spaghetti squash, especially if you don’t cut the squash in half to give the moisture inside the squash a place to escape.” Following her suggestion, I roasted a halved squash, cut sides up, at 450 degrees, and in half-an-hour it was tender but not mushy, with a bit of browning on the edges (see the photo above). The strands separated cleanly and didn’t fall apart. Leaving the strands with a bit of a chew — al dente, if you will — can really help overcome texture problems.
While roasting is her preferred method, Higgins says you can microwave or pressure cook halved spaghetti squash with a bit of water if you’re short on time.
Bump up the flavor. Think of spaghetti squash as more of a canvas than the actual painting. “I think on its own, it’s kind of bland,” says Alice Bereger of Maryland’s Anchor Nursery. She says it needs stronger flavors to help it shine. She likes to saute it with olive oil, garlic and soy sauce. Curry powder and ginger are good, too. Ada Broussard, marketing manager at Johnson’s Backyard Garden in Texas, suggests a stir-fry with sesame oil, chiles, green onions and lime. Stuffing spaghetti squash with bold flavors is a good move, as in the Spaghetti Squash Stuffed With Escarole, White Beans and Turkey Sausage pictured above.
Tackle the pasta comparison. If you happen to be somewhat of a spaghetti squash skeptic, the pasta expectation might not be doing you any favors. “I just forgot about slapping spaghetti sauce on it,” Bereger says.
Broussard agrees: “Cauliflower is not rice, and spaghetti squash is not pasta.” That being said, she knows it can be helpful to think of ways to make vegetables more approachable. If it helps you to “lean in and mix it with a bunch of cheese,” go for it, Broussard says.
If a pile of squash threads with some sauce piled on top doesn’t sound appealing, there are other ways to channel the concept. In Ina Garten’s new book, “Modern Comfort Food,” the Barefoot Contessa offers a recipe for spaghetti squash arrabbiata, in which the squash flesh is mixed with a spicy, garlicky tomato sauce and put back into the hollowed-out halves with some bocconcini (small balls of mozzarella), Parmesan cheese and basil. “It’s all the flavors of chicken Parmesan — but vegetarian and gluten-free!” Garten writes.
Perhaps tomato sauce is not your favorite, in which case pesto, as in the almond-arugula version shown above, could be the answer.
Or maybe mac and cheese is more your style. Broussard suggests a similar approach to Garten, by mixing the flesh with cheese and a bechamel (the flour-thickened milk sauce), along with bacon, herbs and bread crumbs. “Tell me you’re going to be mad at that,” she says.
You can treat spaghetti squash like wheat pasta in non-sauced situations, too. You may be familiar with the concept of baking leftover spaghetti into eggs for a kind of pasta frittata. Why not spaghetti squash? In combing The Washington Post’s archives for inspiration, I came across a spaghetti squash tart from 1988 that combines the strands with cheese, a few eggs and cream in a buttery crust for something reminiscent of a quiche. Noodle soups could work, too. Another Post recipe, from 1993, stars spaghetti squash and onions in a simple brothy number topped with grated Gruyere or Jarlsberg cheese.
Think of it more like other starches. All right, we’ve addressed the pasta conundrum. How about using spaghetti squash strands where you might otherwise use a different type of noodle? It could make a pretty good stand-in for glass noodles (made with a starch such as sweet potato) in the Korean stir-fry known as japchae. Consider it in recipes that also call for rice vermicelli, such as these Harissa Chicken Noodle Lettuce Cups.
The squash threads could work in situations you might use shredded potato. My colleague Kari Sonde says she recently fried leftover spaghetti squash into what was basically a hash brown. A chef quoted in The Post in 1992 added some to his latkes.
Try something completely new. Despite its sluggish market sales, spaghetti squash gets put into all the community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes from Deep Roots Farm, Sutton says. “At least folks are getting it and maybe they’ll try using it.” Johnson’s Backyard Garden grew about 6,000 pounds this year, which were mostly divvied up among its 2,000 CSA members.
One intriguing recipe in The Post from 1989 incorporates the squash into a Portuguese almond cake known as morgado de amendoa. It wouldn’t be out of place where you’d think about shredded zucchini, in quick bread or muffins.
Be open, and don’t be intimidated. As Broussard says: “It’s just a vegetable.”
More from Voraciously: