Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Unsung Hero. Vol 1. Spaghetti Squash

I’m beginning a mini series.  Every now and again, we need cohesion and not a random stream of thoughts from my brain to these electronic letters.  I am refraining from promising how many installments you shall receive, since really, this is the first one that I can think of so far.  My intention is to introduce you to some of my old favorites, which are not sprawled across the pages of Bon Appetit every fall.  Here’s to the unsung heroes whose praises we don't hear often enough.  And to the new regulars: for your grocery basket to cabinet/fridge to tummy.

Our first hero: the spaghetti squashI wish I could tell you some wistful story about how I found the spaghetti squash but it landed in my lap during my senior year of college when I had graduated to my second kitchen which was on Kedzie and Foster: still tiny, loud, dusty and had to be serviced with a college budget.  Childhood meals were prepared by my public health nurse mom who made most things she could from scratch to save money and fill our tummies with healthy things.  This all meant that my budget for groceries was carefully crafted, and guilt ensued if I had ramen too many nights in a row, knowing my sodium consumption would be seriously out of control.  Out of desperation rather than a streak of creativity, I turned to cheap root vegetables.  Enter squash.  Wading through memories of Heiddeger and Hobbes from the semester, I can vaguely recall that I found spaghetti squash after getting sick of night after night of plain noodles and sauce.  There had to be something I could do cheaply to spice this up.  My sincerest apologies to whoever was so good to introduce me to this food item.  The glory is yours my friend.  All yours.

While its lovely yellow shell does make a nice contrast against an acorn and butternut squash in one’s fall cornucopia, the nutty, crunchy, stringy squash turns regular spaghetti dinner to a deeper flavored, vitamin-filled pasta dinner.  Go ahead, carb up and don’t feel a hint of shame.

I slice my spaghetti squash hot-dog style, straight in half and lay both halves face down in a 9x13 pan with 1 inch of water in the bottom.  Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes.  Notice the yellow meat of the squash will have turned a little bit darker around the rind, telling you it is fully cooked.  When in doubt, under cook it.  I think it can quickly become a coagulated mass if you overdo it and will release too much protein into your sauce.  Take a large metal spoon and run the spoon as close to the rind as you can, separating the meat of the squash from the rind.  Leave the meat in your rind, and use a fork to break apart the strands.   You should have something that looks like this:

Now look around in your fridge.  Do you have ¼ of a red bell pepper?  ½ an onion that you used for tacos last night?  Maybe some zucchini?  Eggplant? Spinach in a bag that looks like it needs to be eaten by tomorrow otherwise it’s all gone to waste?  Throw all of that in a large sauté pan and brown nicely in some olive oil.  Here were my odds and ends:

When fully cooked, add a jar of your favorite tomato sauce.  I swear by the Vodka Marinara at Trader Joes.  It’s the best bottled-vodka marinara by far and speaks nicely with the nuttiness of the squash.  If you’ve hunted through the whole bin of squashes at the store and you’ve happened upon the loveliest, and largest of all squashes and it suddenly seems like your sauce won’t quite go far enough, throw in a can of tomatoes, whole or diced.

SkyMall lovin’ Starbucks Supporting Spaghetti Squash

1 spaghetti squash
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 zuccini, chopped into ½ inch discs and halved
½ white onion, chopped
½ c Kalamata olives
2 T Olive oil
1 jar of Trader Joe’s vodka marinara sauce
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried basil
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
salt & pepper
3 italian-spiced turkey sausages
1 4 oz package of goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375.  Cut squash in half long ways and place in 9x13 pan side by side in 1 inch of water. (note, if they don’t fit use two different pans, and they can spill over the top… I’ve used a pie pan before!)  Bake for 45 minutes until the inside flesh is stringy when pulled from the edge.  The outside rim of the squash meat will have turned two shades of a darker yellow. 

Meanwhile, heat ½ inch of water in a large sauté pan and cook sausages for 15 minutes, covered.  If you don’t have a tightly fitting lid, keep adding water so you maintain your steam in the pan.  Remove from heat and cut sausages into 1/3 inch discs.  Set aside.  Heat 2 T olive oil in sauté pan and sauté onions for 1 minute.  Then add peppers and zucchini. Sauté until browned. 

Stir in a marinara sauce.  If, by looking at the size of the squash vs. your sauce it looks like you won’t have enough, you can add a can of diced, stewed tomatoes.  When doing so, double your spices.  Heat until warmed thoroughly. 

Scoop out spaghetti squash and stir into sauce.  Serve warm, topped with sausage, goat cheese and olives and lots of good red wine.

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