Adventures in Vegetables: Spaghetti Squash Casserole

or how to play with your food the healthy way

Thanks to our local Farmer's Market the late Summer has yielded a series of experiments into the depths of the vegetable world that I had not yet dared to seek, the fresh produce has lured me away from the safety of green beans and broccoli and straight into the high stakes world of squash.  I first dabbled in zucchini to build up my strength, sauteed in a stir fry one day and then stuffed with a ricotta mix the next.  Feeling confident after a few different trial runs that I'd begun to like this once loathed vegetable, previously only acceptable in zucchini bread if - and only if - it came with chocolate chips, I began to look around for a close relative.  There I found Patty Pan.  An adorable, bright yellow squash that looked to be more for decoration than eating.  This turned out to be, however, even more delectable than the zucchini!  And it most certainly made an attractive little side or main dish stuffed and served up as it's own little bowl.  I considered this Summer Squash Success!

And then came the Spaghetti Squash.  The plain, long, heavy squash with no apparent character or visual inspiration.  I thought there must something I can do with this, but what?  Turns out there is not the plethora of recipes out there for it as there was for zucchini, and those that I did find seemed a bit daunting at first glance, so there it sat - next to the onions - day after day.  I came home from work each night, looked sadly at the squash, and then reached for the green beans or peppers or even zucchini sitting in the basket just a few inches away.  Finally the day came when I couldn't face it any longer, I had to do something - anything - with that squash.  So I cut it open, removed the seeds, and once again stared.  This could not be spaghetti squash - where were the strings?  It was just more of the same mundane color inside as out, and it certainly didn't look like pasta strands could be pulled out of it.  So I took a deep breath, chopped up te insides, and tossed it into a vegetable saute.  Not bad, not bad at all.  I was surprised to like the subtle flavor of the squash and the different texture alongside other vegetables.  But I was determined that I could do more with this, so another squash made it's way into my home and onto my kitchen counter.  Not long after, Spaghetti Squash Casserole was born.  I had intended to follow a generic squash recipe that I had found online, really I did, but when it came out of the oven a miracle had happened - the strings had appeared!  And not just the appearance of strings, but texture and color, that's where the recipe went South and I really had a chance to play with my food.  Here's what I did:

1 small spaghetti squash
2 tbsp butter
House spice blend
1 tbsp dried minced onion
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
4 tbsp Italian bread crumbs
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. Place the squash on a large cutting board and carefully cut it in half lengthwise.  Put both halves of the squash cut side down in a deep baking pan and add enough water to come up about 1 inch on the sides so it has a nice little bath to soak in.  Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

2. You'll know the squash is ready when it can be easily pierced through the skin with a fork, but don't push too hard there's no need for extra holes or reckless damage to the skins it will only make the next part harder.  Remove the squash from pan and allow to cool for 5-10 min on the cutting board.  Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and discard, be careful not to pull out the flesh too much with it.  Now that the seeds are out of the way, take a fork and pull the "strands" of squash from the skin.  Once you get into the motion, you'll be able to hold the thin edges of the skin easily while maneuvering the fork around inside.

3. Put the strands of squash in a bowl and season with the spice blend, garlic, and dried onion.  Stir to incorporate, making sure the spices are spread out evenly.  Toss in the Parmesan cheese and stir again.  Add the butter first in the bottom of a small baking dish and then pour the squash over top.  

4.  Sprinkle the Panko crumbs and then Italian bread crumbs evenly over the dish.  Spray the top with a bit of olive oil or drizzle a little extra butter.  Before putting in the oven, use a fork to push some of the breadcrumbs into the squash with a gentle stabbing motion, this should create some ridges in the surface texture that will brown nicely.  Now place in the oven and broil until lightly golden on the peaks.  Remove and allow to set for a couple minutes before serving.

The picture does not do this justice.  I will work for a better image next time, unfortunately it was almost gone by the time I made it back to the kitchen to snap a picture.  It isn't the most colorful dish, that is true, but the flavor has surprising depth and the texture made an excellent compliment to the baked chicken tenders and potatoes that I served along with it.  Quite healthy and fun, not only to make but also to twirl around your fork while you eat, and it was so good that my husband made a face when I snuck the last spoonful into a container for my lunch today.  Who knew?  That long, plain, heavy squash blossomed into a light and flavorful side in less than an hour's time.  And now, sadly, I must go.  I hope that you enjoy this dish as much as we did last night, and I will this afternoon.  Take care, and remember - you're never too old to play with your food.  Enjoy!

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