Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I'm Eating Pasta Again!! I mean Squash...

I have just learned of the wonders of spaghetti squash. Last week we got a spaghetti squash in our box from the CSA, along with a recipe for a spaghetti squash casserole. I had heard before that spaghetti squash is a great substitute for spaghetti pasta. I must admit, I didn't really believe this. Having eaten many different kinds of squash before, I couldn't see how it would be anything like pasta. So, I never bothered to pick one up at the grocery store and thus had never tried it. Well, lo and behold, I ended up with one in my produce box last week, along with a recipe, and decided to give it a whirl.

To back up just a little, my hubby and I have been adhering loosely to the Zone diet (developed by Dr. Barry Sears) for about a year and a half. When I say "loosely" I just mean that we don't really count blocks TOO strictly. Basically, we try to get the correct proportion of protein, fat, and good carbs. We also try to eat whole foods, rather than processed items, thanks to having read the wonderful book "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto." * In trying to get good carbs, we try not to eat foods with a high glycemic index, so no potatoes, pasta, breads, etc. I've sort of missed these things, though less so over time. The discovery of the spaghetti squash, however, has opened my eyes to the possibility of eating "pasta" again. It really is quite like spaghetti in texture when you cook it and scoop it out of the skin! And it actually has an even better flavor. Just for reference, the glycemic index number for white spaghetti is 59, while the glycemic index number for spaghetti squash is less than 20 (the lower the better!). The following is the recipe we got in our box this week from Good Earth Farm. I happened to have all the ingredients on hand except for mushrooms (hate these so never have them in my house), which I left out, and the full 2 cups of mozzarella, which I supplemented with parmesan. I made it two nights ago and it was fantastic! Even better last night for leftovers.

Baked Spaghetti Squash Casserole (6 servings)

Spaghetti squash (1 medium, 1/2 large, or 2 small)
2 T. Olive oil
1 lb. ground Italian sausage (we used venison Italian sausage, but any ground meat works)
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 bell pepper any color, cored, seeded, and diced
1 small onion or 3 scallions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning or dried or chopped fresh oregano, basil, and thyme
1/2 to 1 tsp. salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 to 2 lbs. tomoatoes, chopped (approximately 5-6 tomatoes, depending on size)
1 T. sugar
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese or mozzarella
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (optional)
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Poke the squash several times with a sharp knife to create holes to let the steam out and prevent squash from exploding while baking. Bake whole squash for 45-60 minutes, until a fork easily penetrates the flesh. Remove from oven and let cool until it can be handled. Slice it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and fibers that hold them in the middle. Discard these. Then scrape the spaghetti fibers from each half into a large bowl. Fluff up and separate strands with a fork if necessary and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium. Add Italian sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage into even pieces. Add mushrooms, onion, bell pepper, garlic, Italian seasoning, and S&P, and continue cooking until the sausage is browned and veggies soften (about 8-10 minutes). Add chopped tomatoes and sugar to meat mixture. Cook to thicken, 15-20 minutes. Stir in spaghetti squash.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Rub a 9x13 casserole dish with a little olive oil. Pour squash/meat mixture into dish. Top with cheese and bake 30-45 minutes. If you like the top browned and crispy, turn on the broiler for the last few minutes. Sprinkle with olives and scallions if desired and serve!

One last thought. I have found that the thing I miss the most about eating pasta is the ease and speed of preparation. Pasta was always one of my go-to dishes when I didn't feel like cooking anything fancy. I mean, how easy is it to throw some noodles in boiling water and add sauce of some sort, or even just a little EVOO and parm? Over time I've come up with other quick and easy Zone-friendly recipes to replace pasta in this way (tuna, chicken, etc). This is good, because I have to say the spaghetti squash can't quite match the speed of preparation of the pasta. As you can see, it takes about an hour to cook it before it's ready to eat. But, cooking it whole is super easy and not messy (doesn't leave much on the dish to clean after) and it is passive preparation, in that you just wash it, poke it, and throw it in the oven for a while. So I would say that it is as EASY as pasta, just not as fast. The flavor and texture make a terrific substitute in other ways! I'm going to try it in some other pasta recipes too.

Next up - Kholrabi puree as a substitute for mashed potatoes. Mmmmm!!

*Pollan, M. (2008). In defense of food: An eater's manifesto. New York, Penguin Press.

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