Spaghetti Squash alla Caprese
Happy December 1st!
This is a little different for me, but if you know me, you know that I spend a lot of time thinking about food. Over time, I’ve developed a handful of recipes that are unique enough that I would love to share them. Most of them are fiber-full, and, again, if you know me, you know that’s important. But I also like to write, so you’ll have to excuse the stories that preface my non-recipe recipes (more of a guide, really), and limit those eye rolls because these posts fall into the category of memes where you could hide the secret location of a dead body in the text because nobody reads the three pages of narrative and skips straight to the recipe. Except me. I always read the story. Even in the NYT Cooking app, I like to read why the person came up with the recipe, what historical connotations it has, how it ties into our general perception of food. One particularly good one is Andrew Zimmern talking about James Beard’s farmer’s chicken (Google it, you won’t be disappointed.)
Spaghetti squash seems pretty ubiquitous these days, but that wasn’t always the case. A perfunctory review of the internet shows that, while most squashes are native to North America, spaghetti squash came from the Manchurian region of China. It was developed as animal fodder in the 1890s. A somewhat different view was that the squash was here first, spread around the world, and then came back via the Burpee Seed Company, who purchased the seeds from Sakita, a Japanese seed purveyor, in the 1930s. Either way, the Cucurbita pepo shares a genus (and scientific name) with the common pumpkin, acorn squash, and other winter squashes. After digging around for primary sources, one website had the original seed catalogues and a quote from one of the seed company owners, who said that the seeds came from China (polyglotveg.blogspot.com). Still, what was then known as ‘vegetable spaghetti’ wasn’t super popular until WWII, when pasta was in low supply and people grew spaghetti squash in their victory gardens. There was a second resurgence in the 1970s when hippies and vegans touted spaghetti squash for its health benefits. Either way, I’m glad we have it around. I discovered it a few years ago while on our own health journey and find that it is a pretty darn good meal when you’re craving spaghetti but don’t want pasta.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. My mother-in-law (shoutout to Carolyn, who reads this blog!) brought us a spaghetti squash. I think she said it was from a farmer neighbor, but she had gotten two of them, so she drove one of them down, 12+ hours from Michigan to Georgia, just for us. It was large, about the size of the baby in my belly, and a deep orange-yellow hue, prettier than the pale yellow spaghetti squash we see in stores. (Apparently the darker orange variety is called an ‘Orangetti”.) Now, through circumstances unforeseen, we did not actually get to eat this spaghetti squash while she was here (I made other meals, and we went out to eat a few times). So a few days after she drove back home, I realized that it was still sitting on the counter, and something had to be done with it.
Normally, I cut a small spaghetti squash in half and put it face-down in a baking dish with a little water and microwave it. Usually about 15 minutes or so. That’s how I’ve done it for years, how I thought you were supposed to do it. The squash comes out steamed, but yes, a little wet and mushy. I turn the squash over and scrape out the strands, usually eat it with some marinara sauce and either meatless or turkey meatballs for a low-carb, low-fat meal. I thought it was pretty good. My wife seemed to enjoy it. That is, until I made it like I did this time. We probably will not go back to microwaved spaghetti squash after this. Roasting a squash in the oven dries out the strands a bit more, eliminates that mushiness, and gives the edges a caramelized, smoky favor.
The base of the recipe is from NYT Cooking, but I had to make several modifications because a) I didn’t have any breadcrumbs, b) I always read the comments and make changes to the recipe based on the comments and c) I wanted to do something with tomatoes and burrata. First off, cutting up a spaghetti squash. I once slipped while cutting up a butternut squash and sliced into my left index finger, so I am a little wary of cutting squash. However, I’ve come up with a pretty easy way of doing it. Some people have suggested microwaving the entire squash to soften it before cutting, but I thought that kind of defeated the purpose and might result in a squash exploding in your microwave. So, I lay the squash on a large, dry cutting board and with a large, sharp knife (the size is important, it should be longer than the diameter of the squash), cut off the top and bottom (about half an inch or less. Then make a few stab holes along the squash and now you microwave it for 5 minutes. When it’s done, bring it back to your cutting board and stand it up on one end. It’s now soft and has a flat surface to stand on, so you can start from the top and make your way down the middle of the squash with your knife, making a slow rocking motion back and forth. Please don’t chop off your fingers. Be careful. This method is safer, but not foolproof. If you do the “microwave the entire thing first method”, still poke holes to let out steam to prevent a squash explosion. I have also read that you can boil the whole thing intact for 30 minutes (but that may also defeat the purpose of drying it out).
Once you have the squash cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds with a spoon. (I also read somewhere that you should cut it crosswise because this makes the strands longer; I’ll try that next time.) Some people roast the seeds with salt and eat them like pumpkin seeds. I haven’t tried this with spaghetti squash seeds. Next, salt and pepper the flesh, and drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of (good) olive oil. Roast the squash on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper (475 degrees for 30 mins). Take out the squash and allow it to cool a bit. Scrape out the strands, leaving them in the shells for serving. Mix in mozzarella, garlic, herbs, and a little more salt. Top with more mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. If using tomatoes, add them here as well. Return the concoction back to the oven for 25 minutes. When the timer beeps, take the squash out and top each with a burrata, basil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Alternately, you can return to the broiler for 2-3 mins for a meltier cheese and crispier top but I like the contrast of the cold, creamy burrata with the warm burst of tomato juice and melted mozzarella. Another alternate option: scrape all the strands of spaghetti squash into a baking dish and make this like a casserole, the rest of the recipe as is. But I like using the squash as bowls…
Quantities aren’t so important here but if you like to be exact:
1 spaghetti squash
1-2 tbs olive oil
1 cup shredded mozzarella, divided, more if you’d like
1 clove minced garlic
Herbs: assortment of rosemary, thyme, oregano, fresh if you have it, dried if you don’t.
½ cup grated Parmesan
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 burrata (Trader Joe’s sells them in a 2-pack container)
1 handful basil
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
So you know me, as a colorectal surgeon I can’t eat a meal without thinking about how much fiber is in it. And despite the quantities of cheese, this dish has enough fiber to keep you regular for a couple of days.
A cup of cooked spaghetti squash has 10 grams of carbohydrates with 2.2 grams of fiber, which would be about 10% of your daily fiber needs on its own. In comparison, a cup of butternut squash has 21.5 grams of carbs and 6.6 grams of fiber; a cup of cooked spaghetti noodles has 43 grams of carbs and 2.5 grams of fiber. There are about 4 grams of natural sugars in spaghetti squash and it’s 42 calories per serving. Adding tomatoes adds 1.8g fiber per cup. If you’d like to mix in some spinach, that’s 4.3g fiber per cup of cooked spinach.
Of course, half a squash is more than 1 serving. So say it’s about 2.5 cups of squash, and a cup of tomatoes, which means you’re getting 7.3g of fiber in this meal!
In other news, I have a piece on BaselineMed this month: Letter to My Younger Self. I have another piece that will be published on The Polyphony later this week. So, stay tuned, and until next time, always go black tie!
Sounds so good! We should try this as it’s GF, and we can use LF cheese! I did microwave a small pumpkin for like 3-5 min and worried it would explode but it was okay and it was definitely easier to cut.