I have a Bread Problem. There, I said it. I’ve always had a Chip Problem and a Snickers Problem…and a Dr. Pepper Problem…but somewhere along the road to becoming an adult I developed the need to eat all the bread in site. Not crappy stale sandwich bread, mind you, but a nice sourdough or baguette or pretzel roll. I could eat those until I burst. Accordingly, my bread problem translates somewhat to pasta. I don’t necessarily crave pasta, but when I make it I tend eat way too much of it and way too much of anything is not a good thing. Enter spaghetti squash.
Subbing spaghetti squash for pasta is hardly a novel idea, but it’s the kind of thing that you think won’t work until you try it and realize that it works quite nicely, actually. The squash’s delicately sweet flavor pairs well with the salty, savoriness of the meat sauce, and the texture adds just a bit of crunch to the dish. It’s a nice change to regular spaghetti and a good way to sneak more veggies into your dinner.
The sauce I made here is a variation on a recipe I found in one of Martha Stewart’s magazines. Now, I’m no Italian, but I think this sauce is pretty good. I call it “no recipe” because you can switch it up however you like and it should still come out pretty good. I used ground pork, mushrooms, onion, garlic, and a bit of anchovy because that’s what I like. You could put in eggplant, carrots, celery, zucchini, peppers, ground beef, ground turkey…it’s up to you.
For the spaghetti squash:
A nice 3-4 pound squash will easily yield you four or more servings. I find the smaller squashes easier to cut through, so in the future I will probably get two instead of waging war with my knife, pyscho-style, on one big ass squash.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and tendrils. Lay the squash flesh side down on a rimmed baking sheet. I add a little water to the pan just so the squash doesn’t stick to it. It works like a charm.
Roast in a 425F oven for an hour or so, just until you can pierce it easily with a knife. Once done, use a fork to separate the strands of the squash. It should resemble spaghetti pretty nicely. I like to put the threaded squash into a strainer over a bowl for a little bit, as it’ll continue to expel some of its own moisture (which would otherwise water down your sauce).
For the sauce:
Ideally you would do this all in one pan, but I don’t have one big enough, so I did it in batches. While the squash is cooking, chop up about half of a large onion, 3-4 or more cloves of garlic, and 8 ounces of mushrooms of your choice. I used cremini, but plain button mushrooms or a mix of exotic mushrooms would also be great. Put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan and let that heat, then add the onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Saute until cooked down and the water they give off has evaporated. At this point I also added a couple of anchovies and let them melt away into the mushroom goodness. Trust me, you can’t really taste the anchovies – they just add a nice layer of flavor to the sauce.
Because my saute pan wasn’t big enough, I removed the mushroom mixture, then browned ½ pound of ground pork in the same pan. Once cooked, I added back the mushrooms, sprinkled over some salt, pepper, and a good handful of oregano (probably 1-2 tablespoons), and then added a 28 ounce can of tomatoes. You can use whole tomatoes and chop them yourself, or you can get diced and have the work done for you, or you can puree them in a blender or food processor first if you want a smooth sauce. I ended up getting “chef’s cut” which were like strips of tomato that I ended up really liking. (I like a chunky sauce.) Turn the heat on your pan down to a simmer and let the tomatoes marry with all of the other ingredients for 15-20 minutes.
And now you’ve made sauce. Taste it and adjust salt and pepper like a pro.
Put a nice bunch of spaghetti squash on your plate and top it with your meat sauce. If you’re me, add some cheese on top. I like cheddar because I’m weird and like cheddar on my pasta. I mentioned I’m not Italian, right?
This isn’t a time-saving recipe that you can throw together after work on a Tuesday night, but it does make a whole bunch that you can save for leftovers and even freeze. It’s well worth spending a wintry Sunday afternoon creating this hearty, healthy pasta variation. Trust me, you’ll want to make it again and again.