*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana
Hi folks. I've been cooking so much lately that I got a little inspired to start a "look and cook" series on this very blog. Fingers crossed that I stick to it, because as my sister constantly tells me, "You have the attention span of a gnat."
She's right. :)
So here we go, first installment of Diana's Look And Cook Series...today's topic is spaghetti squash. Next to butternut squash, spaghetti squash is a big favorite of mine, so I'm always looking forward to fall so I can make my favorite recipe!
The other day I was at Trader Joe's (btw, I will be doing a separate post soon on my love of Trader Joe's) and saw a cornucopia of squash and pumpkins, and as soon as I saw spaghetti squash, I knew I had to have one so I could cook my favorite recipe with it.
Mind you, there are TONS of ways to cook/serve spaghetti squash, but this is by far my favorite. It's a hybrid of something I learned in a cooking class and something I had as a side dish in a restaurant. It's kind of a take on your standard spaghetti and meat sauce dish, but instead of pasta, you use squash!
First things first. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Then wash the outside of the squash, under warm water, rubbing the outside with your hands. I've been told that produce is clean when you run it under warm water, manipulating it with your hands, while you recite the alphabet, then you dry it with clean paper towels. I don't ALWAYS do that, but there you go.
Next up, you cut the squash in half. I don't have a picture, but you get the gist. Make sure you're using a cutting board and a sharp knife. I'm sure I don't have to lecture you on knife safety, but I will if you want me to. :) Or I can tell you about the time I stabbed myself in the hand while cutting into an avocado.
Yeah, let's not go there, because it wasn't pretty.
Once you cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the guts with a sturdy spoon. They kind of look like this.
Then spray each side, on the inside with cooking spray. Or you can brush it with olive oil. Then turn them cut side down onto a pan lined with parchment paper.
I actually cooked two small spaghetti squashes and reused the parchment, that's why you see brown spots on the paper. And at the top of the pic is my beloved Le Crueset dutch oven. My BFF gave it to me for my birthday, and think I thank her for it every time I use it (thank you, Alix!). It's simmering the meat sauce, I'll get into the prep for that in a sec.
Place the squash in the oven and bake for approximately an hour. I usually bake it for about 45-50 minutes, because the longer you cook it, the softer it gets, and you want this squash to hold up under the meat sauce, so you should bake it to an "al dente" state. At the 40 minute mark I check it every so often and I know when it's done when I can insert the tip of a sharp knife through the outside of the squash and you are met with no resistance. (I sound very sci-fi here, ha ha!)
Once the squash is done, pull the pan out of the oven and set it in a heat resistant area to cool (I usually use the stove top or my wooden cutting board on the counter). This is what the squash looks like when you flip it over. The color deepens on the inside and the light char marks along the edges are totally normal.
Now comes the fun part. Once the squash has cooled, grab a sturdy fork and get to it. Start at the top of the squash and scrape the pulp downward toward you. It looks like this as you go along. I typically scrape out a bunch, then transfer it over to a bowl, otherwise it turns into a huge mess. You can scrape out as much as you want, the whole thing (besides the outer shell) can be scraped out and consumed.
Once I'm done, I drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. I find that mixing it with tongs is a lot easier than a spoon or fork. Don't be too aggressive with the squash, it's al dente, yet tender, and the strands can break up easily if you start putting a lot of muscle into it.
At this point I can eat it just like this as a side dish, sometimes adding a little bit of fresh Parmesan or maybe some fresh thyme, or I take to the next step - serve it with meat sauce!
I took some pics as I prepped the meat sauce, but they didn't come out that great, so I'll just tell you about it.
My meat sauce recipe varies, depending on what I'm in the mood for. I have made my own homemade sauce before and it came out great, but I often don't have a lot of time to simmer a pot of sauce for hours, so I shortcut my sauce, and here's how I did it for this recipe.
1lb lean ground turkey (or ground chicken or ground beef, your choice)
1 jar Trader Joe's pomodoro sauce
1 jar Newman's Own Mushroom sauce
1 16oz can of tomato sauce (you may not need this so don't open it right away)
Italian Seasoning (McCormick makes a grinder of these spice which I LOVE)
Salt/Pepper to taste
Fresh chopped garlic (as much as you'd like, I use about 1-2 cloves)
1lb mushrooms (button or portabello, your choice)
Wash the mushrooms and slice them to about 1/4" thickness. Spray a pan with a cooking spray and heat it on high. Once it's ready to go, drop the mushrooms in and spread them out. Try not to stir or touch the mushrooms too much, otherwise they will steam and you'll end up cooking them in a puddle of water.
Once the mushrooms have seared and reduced (if there's water in the pan, just keep cooking until it evaporates), take them off the heat and put them aside.
In a saucepan or dutch oven, cook the ground turkey until lightly browned. Remove from the heat and drain off any fat and put aside. Put the pan with the turkey back on the heat and throw the mushrooms and stir. Add some garlic, as much as you'd like, and stir.
After about a minute, open the TJ's sauce, pour it in and stir. If the sauce looks like chili, open the Newman's sauce and pour that in. At this point my sauce still looked like chili, so I added the tomato sauce, followed by about a tablespoon of the Italian seasoning (I grind it right into the sauce). I'm all about what tastes good to me and rarely follow recipes to the letter, so I suggest you taste the sauce at this point. More seasoning? Add it. Salt and pepper? Add it. Taste it again. More garlic? Add it. Needs something else? Add it. If you like it, then you're good to go.
I usually let the sauce simmer for about an hour, sometimes longer if I'm able to, stirring occasionally. Once it's done, ladle it over a serving of the spaghetti squash, sprinkle with your favorite cheese, and EAT!
And here's the finished product. It was delicious, filling and I'd say pretty good for you! You're using squash instead of pasta, squash only has about 40 calories per 1 cup serving!
The sauce is made with very lean ground turkey, and please make sure your sauce doesn't have high fructose corn syrup in it. Or make it homemade if you have the time. If you make it yourself you know what's going into it and you can control the calories.