Even though Monticello technically has four distinct seasons, sometimes Mother Nature plays tricks on the environment. 2017 saw a very short spring, weather wise, and the summer monsoon season continued further along than usual. Fall had only just begun when on October 9th, the townsfolk awoke to the first snowfall; furnaces pulsed to life while the air filled with the scent from wood burning stoves. As suddenly as winter touched the town, fall was back with mildly cool temperatures and the turning of leaves to warm, golden colors.
In the kitchen, recipe pages turned to comforting soups and casseroles; holidays just around the calendar corner tickled the sweet tooth for cookies, pies and cakes. Fall and winter is also when we tend to hibernate; cocooning ourselves inside with mugs of spiced apple cider or hot chocolate. We become more sedentary, so shouldn’t be surprised when the pounds begin moving the needle on scales upward. Pasta is the winter downfall of the Cokenour household; thick lasagna layered with meat sauce and cheeses; puffy ravioli loaded with creamy cheese, and maybe I’ll sneak in some chopped spinach into the cheese mixture. Therein lies the key, getting vegetables into the meals to offset some of those pounds trying to sneak onto the hips.
Spaghetti squash is an oblong shaped (normally yellow in color, sometimes with an orange tint) winter squash which can be easily prepared. After cutting the squash lengthwise, use a simple spoon to scoop out the seeds; the raw flesh is firm and the surprise comes after cooking. This type of squash can be baked, boiled, microwaved or steamed; my personal favorite way is baking it in an oven. I have tried the microwave way, but I believe the baking method gives the squash more flavor, especially if you allow the ends to brown slightly. A medium sized squash is about seven inches long and gives up about four cups of cooked flesh. Oh, when buying a spaghetti squash, be warned that it looks slightly like a honeydew melon, but the melon typically has a greenish tint to it, while the squash won't.
After cleaning the squash, preheat the oven to 375F; line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the squash cut side down. Some folks say to rub oil on the rind, but it really doesn't do a thing for the flesh inside and the rind will soften with or without the oil. Bake the squash for 40 - 50 minutes; the edges will begin to brown and the flesh can easily be removed with a fork. Clean the squash while it is still hot; hold the rind side with a folded towel and lean the bottom against the edge of your bowl; with a downward scraping motion pull the strands of the flesh into the bowl. See how it looks like spaghetti, and the texture is almost the same also; the taste however is different, it does taste like a vegetable. You can easily use the strands in any dish you would use the pasta in; top with your favorite pasta sauce, make a frittata, or go completely vegetarian with your recipe. Could you add a protein? Why not!?! Small meatballs, grilled and sliced sausages, crispy bacon; treat it like a pasta that just happens to have more vitamins and minerals than whole grains.
Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 and 1/2 cups cup sliced zucchini
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 and 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
3/4 chopped fresh parsley
4 cups cooked spaghetti squash
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Option: grated Parmesan cheese on top
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; sauté' the mushrooms, zucchini and garlic together until the mushrooms soften and begin to brown. Keep stirring to keep the garlic from burning.
Add the tomatoes, mix and let them cook down for about five minutes, so the excess liquid can evaporate.
Add the parsley, but only cook for one minute to allow it to wilt a little. If you want it to look more dramatic though, instead of chopping the parsley leaves; leave them whole. Add the spaghetti squash and toss well to make sure it gets a good coating of the vegetables and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste; depending on how vegetarian you want this dish, you might want to sprinkle a little grated Parmesan cheese over the top of each serving.
Makes 4 servings.
I served this to both my husband and his mother; neither had ever had spaghetti squash before, nor knew what it was. They ended up splitting the four servings up between them. Good thing I keep a jar of peanut butter in the house; made myself a sandwich for lunch while they chowed down on the squash. Oh well, at least I know they enjoyed it...a lot!