All Strung Out

Try a special brand of squash

By Jan Leitschuh

Check any that apply:

— Looking to eat better, fewer carbs and processed foods, and shed those COVID pounds?

— Searching for ways to work more vegetables into your diet?

— Need to avoid gluten due to sensitivities or auto-immune issues?

— Want a simple, low-fuss, low-muss meal?

Spaghetti squash, coming onto markets this month, is the gourd for you.

You’ve probably seen these largish, lemon-colored winter squashes in local markets. This plain, oblong vegetable contains a surprise inside — an extraordinary texture, long strands of squash that, when cooked, make a useful substitute for pasta noodles.

I have grown it in my Sandhills vegetable garden. Local markets will start to feature it toward the end of the month, and it is readily available in supermarkets. Spaghetti squash stores fairly well, about two, even three, months in a cool place.

Once cooked, the flesh of spaghetti squash can be forked into fine strands resembling angel hair pasta. Its mild flavor offers a clear stage for a variety of tastes and treatments such as pestos, red sauces and curries.

The simplest dinner treatment is to halve a 2-3 pound squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds from each half, brush with a little oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast in a baking dish at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until the flesh is fork-tender. Cool slightly, enough to handle.

If you don’t like wrestling large squashes with sharp objects, you can also bake yours whole. If whole, slice off the stem end, then pierce the rind with a fork before placing in an ovenproof baking dish with a little water. Sealing the dish with foil helps speed things up a bit. The baking may take longer, up to an hour and a half for a larger squash. Remove when skin is softened. An oven mitt is helpful to steady the hot rind. Open carefully — the steam can scald — and scoop out the seeds.

The fastest method for a quick supper is to microwave the whole squash. Pierce the rind several times to avoid a buildup of steam. Place on a plate and microwave until tender, 20 minutes or so, until softened.

The easiest dinner prep? Place each squash half on a plate and fill with your favorite jarred marinara. A sprinkle of Parmesan on top and . . . Voila! A healthy, easy meal for two. The eater does the work of pulling free the squash strands.

For a less-slack treatment, tease out the strands by drawing a fork gently down the flesh lengthwise. Toss the strands with some iteration of garlic, red sauce, Italian spices, grated cheese, mushrooms, peppers, ground sausage, etc., before returning the mix to the baked squash rind.

The scooped flesh can be used in casseroles in place of thin wheat pasta. The “noodles” can be given an Asian, Indian or Southwestern twist with a change in seasonings and flavors. Low-carbers even make a ketogenic pizza crust using the strand, eggs and cheese.

For a fancier plating, some folks have been known to take the scooped strands and form “nests” in muffin tins, to be filled with your favorite stuffing. The nests can also star at breakfast, baked with eggs.

Or cut your squash into horizontal “rings” instead of in half lengthwise. This fun baked presentation shortens the cooking time and can then be stuffed with goodies.

Speaking of goodness, spaghetti squash is nutrient dense but low in calories. It can deliver vitamins A and C, folic acid, niacin, manganese, potassium and other nutrients. A whole cup of the squash is only 10 carbs, much lower than wheat pasta — 28 percent, in fact — and only 42 calories.

If you haven’t explored spaghetti squash yet, give this interesting vegetable a try.  PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of Sandhills Farm to Table.

Her favorite book is Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry.

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