Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Trick for Healthy Spaghetti is in the Squash

I am a sucker for pasta. Love the stuff. The trouble with pasta however, is in and of itself it’s just not all that good for you. Technically it’s not bad for you either, but if I gave into my stomach’s unending demands for a giant plate of al dente pasta piled high, topped with the Mount Everest of cheese every night, well, I’d probably need a serious exercise regimen. And let’s be honest, I’m kind of lazy and, well, just not that into sweating. So alas, I try (the key word being “try”) to watch what I eat. I’m not successful all the time, but this time, this time I got it right on the money.

Spaghetti squash:
This golden oval goddess of the mighty squash kingdom is my highway to guilt-free pasta happiness. I definitely missed the boat on the low-carb diet thing (ok, ok, avoided at all costs because seriously, carbs rule people!)  The spaghetti squash is like a blank slate for all my favorite pasta toppings. And I can have that massive bowl of it with a towering mound of cheese all the while smiling ear to ear because the damn thing is a vegetable and I don’t feel bad eating it!

The key here is flavor. And I mean FLAVOR! Big, bright, bursting at the seems kinds of flavors. And that is exactly what you get with my Italian Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash. It’s something I created one night rummaging in the frige, which truth be told can be dangerous, but as I said, sometimes I really nail it. And I tend to have a lot of these ingredients on hand; although, this is another one of those recipes that you could really play with. So if you don't like or have one thing, swop in another. Make it your own. And if you cook the squash and tomatoes a couple days ahead, this dish is a totaly snap to pull together on a busy weeknight.

Italian Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash
(a Girl and Her Kitchen original)

• 1 large spaghetti squash (or 2 small)
• 6-8 medium large vine ripened tomatoes (though really any tomato will do), chopped
• 1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
• 1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
• 2 garlic cloves, smashed
• 1/2 cup fresh basil, rough chop
• 4-6 sundried tomatoes, rough chop
• 1/2 cup kalamata olives, halved
• 1-2 roasted peppers, rough chop
• 4-6 artichoke hearts (marinated and packed in oil and vinegar), drained (though you may want to save a couple tablespoons of the liquid), rough chop
• 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
• 1/2 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese
• 1/4 cup of Parmigianino cheese
• 3 tablespoons Olive oil
• Salt and Pepper, to taste

Rustic Roasted Tomato Sauce:
On an unlined, ungreased sheet pan toss the chopped tomatoes (I make big chunks) with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, herbs de provence, smashed garlic cloves, salt, pepper and sherry vinegar (can substitute any vinegar you like) until the tomatoes are evenly coated.

Spread the tomatoes into an even layer and roast at 300° for at least an hour, though 2-3 hours is best. The tomatoes should fall apart a bit and their juices should be largely gone. This can definitely be made a couple days ahead. Save in airtight container in the refrigerator and then warm up in sauce pan before assembling the condiment. (See below for before and after shots.)

Cook the spaghetti squash:
Apparently you can do this in the microwave and I may try that one day, but for now I use the oven. Pierce the squash all over with a long skewer.
Place it on a baking sheet and cook in a 375º oven for an hour. Use dish washing gloves (or oven mitts) to hold the squash steady. With a big sharp knife cut it in half around the equator (aka long ways), scoop out seeds and then use a fork to pull up the flesh into strands.

Dump strands into a big bowl and set aside. Note: If you need to warm up the squash, pop it in the microwave for a minute. This step can also be done in advance. Save in airtight container in the refrigerator and then warm up in the microwave before completing the dish.
Assemble the condiment:
Place the pine nuts in a small dry sauté pan. Put the pan on medium low and gently toast the nuts. Keep an eye on it. The oils in the pine nuts will quickly burn if you are not careful. Stir the nuts around here and there. They are done when you can smell them and they have turned a light golden color.
In a second sauté pan over medium heat, sauté the peppers, sundried tomatoes, olives, and artichoke hearts with the rustic tomato sauce and warm through, 6 minutes. If you didn’t have time to cook the tomatoes more than an hour in the oven and they have a lot of juice, bring the tomato sauce to a simmer in a separate pan to cook off some of the liquid before adding to vegetables.

Toss the sauce, vegetables and squash in a big bowl.
Add the cheese and basil and mix to combine well. I also tend to add a teaspoon or two of the liquid the artichokes were marinated in as well as the oil from the sundried tomato jar to loosen the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with toasted pine nuts and more cheese to taste. Serve warm or even room temp.


  1. That sounds amazing! I can't wait to try it!

  2. Big fan of the spaghetti squash.

  3. Looks awesome. Need some tasters to verify how good it is?