Friday, January 6, 2012

Ingredient of the Day: Spaghetti from a Squash? Yes!

A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables. – Gertrude Stein

Spaghetti squash. Photo: famfriendsfood, Flickr ccl
You’ve all seen it at the grocery store but if you didn’t know how to prepare it you may have passed it by and missed out on something amazingly different.

Photo: semarr, Flickr ccl
Spaghetti squash (Curcurbita pepo) is an oblong winter squash quite unlike any other. Don’t confuse it with butternut squash. That’s the one with the bulb on the end.

What’s unique about spaghetti squash is—as its name implies—that the flesh inside separates into strands when cooked. It can then be used quite effectively for a substitute for real spaghetti. This is useful for those on gluten-free as well as low carbohydrate diets.

Spaghetti squash also has f a mild flavour. If you have fussy members of your family that don't like the taste of regular squash they may very well enjoy this variety.

The exterior can range from off-white to yellow or orange in color. The more orange it is the higher carotene level it contains. The flesh is similar in colour to the skin. Carotene helps with many of the body’s important biological functions. We usually think of getting carotene from eating carrots.

When raw, the flesh is solid and fairly similar to other raw squash. But when it’s cooked, you can remove the flesh from inside in strands like spaghetti. They’re not as long as spaghetti, but long enough to make a really good substitute.

Spaghetti squash seeds can be roasted, similar to pumpkin seeds (or saved and planted). Roasting the seeds can be done with all edible squash. I wouldn’t try decorative gourds, though.

The strands are removed easily with a fork after cooking.
Photo: Zlato Unger, Flickr ccl
Nutrition and calories
One cup of cooked spaghetti squash has 42 calories, 0.4 gram of fat, 1 g of protein, 10 g of carbohydrate and 2.2 g of fibre. Spaghetti squash also contains folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta carotene. 

How to grow
You can grow this squash relatively easily in gardens (as any other squash) or in containers. Just make sure your soil is well draining and has some amended compost for best results. So keep that in mind if you grow vegetables on your sunny balcony. It’s a definite possibility.

Each plant has both male and female flowers so you only really need to grow one to get fruit. The female blossoms swell when pollinated to make the squash. Spaghetti squash plants may cross-pollinate with zucchini, so watch out. Who really wants 1 million half-breed squash?

I’ve heard of people in Halifax coming back to their parked cars in late summer to find that someone has deposited unwanted zucchinis in them. Bless their souls. I don’t know if the potential for a monster-yield hybrid is there, but the possibility is intriguing…

Spaghetti squash with Marinara sauce.
Photo: jillmotts, Flickr ccl
How to cook
Not knowing quite how to prepare this vegetable is why many people pass it up at the grocery store, but cooking it is easy.

Thee best way to prepare spaghetti squash is to simply cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and roast it on a cookie sheet or other oven proof container. 

Place the squash skin-side down in a 375°F oven for about 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of your squash. It will pierce easily with a fork when done. You can also use the microwave. I’m not sure of the time. Do it in 3-4 minute intervals.

After cooking, take a fork and pull the strands from the inside. Salt and pepper is all you need thereafter. Make sure you don’t over-bake. It can get “mushy.” It’s best al dente like wheat spaghetti.

As a side vegetable spaghetti squash is great with butter and/or parmesan cheese. It also takes a marinara sauce with ease.

Spaghetti squash is a wonderful way to add a unique vegetable with unusual uses to your meal. Last week all of the squash at a local grocery were the same price per pound, so cost shouldn't be a factor. You should give it a try.


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