How-To: Mastering the Spaghetti Squash

Last week I wrote a post about cooking my favorite fall foods, and I had more than a few people ask me for more specifics on cooking the spaghetti squash.  I decided a photo tutorial was in order, and I happily headed to Trader Joe’s to pick up another squash to be cooked and photographed!  Only for you, blog readers, only for you…

I have made this squash plenty of times, but it wasn’t until I found this recipe, and then made a few adjustments of my own, that I really fell in love with the stuff.

I present to you…how to cook delicious spaghetti squash!

(Apologies in advance for the horrible photos.  New camera is my number one christmas wishlist item – can anyone recommend a good camera for macro photos that is not a million dollars?)

First, and perhaps the most commonly forgotten step, is to pre-heat your oven.  375 degrees – I even snapped a picture for you visual learners (thank you, Springer!).

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Okay – start with a spaghetti squash (obviously), and cut lengthwise – be careful!  Cutting all the way through is harder than it looks!

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Once you have your two halves, scrape out the loose strings, seeds, and squash guts.  My weapon of choice for this is a grapefruit spoon – it works perfectly!

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Another one of my cooking must-haves…the trash bowl.  I put this blue bowl on the counter every time I cook, and I use it to hold any food waste, empty cans, paper towels, packaging, etc.  It saves me a lot of time constantly running over to the trash can, and it makes clean up super easy.

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Now that your halves are empty, grab a head of garlic.  The first time I tried this version of spaghetti squash, I cut thin slices of garlic and laid them all around the squash.  While the flavor was still great, I didn’t like eating such large hunks of garlic in the final product, so this time I added minced garlic instead.  If you are a garlic lover, you could go either way. 

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Before you add the garlic give your squash a quick spray of olive oil.  I like to usse this one from Crate and Barrel that sprays real olive oil, rather than the aerosol chemical sprays.

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Now that your squash is all shiny, spread the garlic slices or bits aaaaaall over the edges and rim of the bowl.  Don’t be stingy.  Garlic = good.

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Next, we season.  Salt and pepper should never be out of reach.  Again, don’t be stingy – there is a LOT of squash in there, and you want the flavor to penetrate the entire squash as it bakes.  Give a good dousing of pepper, and then sprinkle salt all over the top.  Once you’ve seasoned, give it another healthy spray of olive oil.

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Grab a baking dish – my squash was big, so I used an 11×17 – and add 1 cup of water to the bottom.  Place your garlicy goodness halves face up in the baking dish, and put the pan in the oven.  If you have followed directions from step one, your oven should be preheated to 375 degrees by now!  :)

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Now for the hard part – wait one hour.  And let me tell you, the longer that garlic bakes and fills your house with its smell, the more you will want to rip it out of the oven and wolf it down.  Be patient.

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I know, waiting is hard for all of us.  :)  Check the squash in an hour.  Once the sides are starting to wrinkle, and you can tell that the squash is starting to pull away from the shell, it’s ready.  Pull it out and set it on your counter.

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Okay, now for the hardest step of all.  More waiting.  It is very tempting to burn your fingertips off and attempt to scrape out all this garlicy goodness the minute it comes out of the oven, but I promise you – you need to wait.  Try to wait at least 20 minutes, at least enough to let the shell come to room temperature, and the rest of the oils and seasonings to soak in.  I promise you that your squash will not get cold in 20-30 minutes.  Trust me, I was very nervous about it cooling down and being gross, but it will still be piping hot when you start to pull away the insides.

In the meantime, stop thinking about eating your squash and make yourself some sauce!  This week’s sauce was my attempt to use up veggies that were getting old.  I sautéed some zucchini, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes on the stove for about 15 minutes, and then added the second half of a leftover jar of marinara sauce to finish.  While I continued to wait for my squash to cool, I also made a salad.  Distract yourself!

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Okay, it’s been 25 minutes.  I can’t take it anymore.  Time to peel the squash.  Grab it with a potholder in one hand – I promise it is still very hot – and place the squash in a large bowl.  Grab a fork with your other hand, and start to scrape down towards the bowl.  If you cooked it long enough, and let it rest and cool, the squash should start flaking apart like noodles very easily.  If you have to use force, you didn’t cook it long enough (put it back!).

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I usually scrape as much as I can in one direction, and then flip it vertically and scrape in the other direction so get as much out of the shell as possible.  Casey makes fun of me for literally trying to get every strand out of the squash, but if I’ve learned anything in culinary school, it is to not waste your food.  Literally, every piece counts.  Repeat with the other half, and discard the shells once they are empty.

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Toss your "spaghetti" strands, and add additional seasoning if needed (but if you didn’t skimp in the prep phase, it shouldn’t need it!).  Sometimes if we want spicy spaghetti I will add roasted red pepper flakes at this point, but I didn’t this time.

Portion your bowls, add your sauce and a few pinches of yummy mozzarella or parmesan cheese and – voila!

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An absolutely delicio
us and ridiculously low-calorie alternative to a gigantic bowl of pasta.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some pasta, but for every day dinners and calorie control, I’d much rather eat a huuuuge bowl of this than a tiny bowl of the real deal.  (Tiny bowl of black beans added for protein!)

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So for those of you who commented or emailed that you hadn’t tried this, I encourage you to grab one the next time you’re at the grocery store.  Squash are in season right now, and in season is code for inexpensive!

Are there any other foods that you want me to demo?  Something you’ve been too scared to try?  Don’t be afraid to ask – I am always up for a kitchen challenge, and Casey is nice enough to eat all of my experiments!  :)

Or perhaps my demos should wait until I get a better camera…