Dear Chef Emily,
I find spaghetti squash to be very intimidating. Can you help? Their popping up at my market and I want to try something new. — Katina in Baldwin
It’s true that its not very special looking (no offense, squash) tucked between its cousins the acorn squash and the butternut with their voluptuous curves. But as we’ve all learned from Sesame Street and Sweet Valley High, true beauty is on the inside and there’s plenty to go around.
Spaghetti squash is notable because when cooked, its flesh shreds beautifully with the tines of a fork and looks like a pile of, well, spaghetti. This talent is unique to this variety and is an excellent option if you are staying away from carbs or wheat and (if this is of interest to you) a cup or so of the plain spaghetti-ed squash has less than forty calories and has lots of betacarotene, which is good for you.
When picking one out, a squash should be dense, heavier than it looks and have no soft or browning spots on the outside. It should also be fully yellow and have no green around the stem or flower end; that indicates it was harvested before fully mature, and fully delicious.
When cooking, you have a few options. My choice is to split it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and place cut side down in a glass baking dish with enough water to come up the sides of the squash by about an inch, and cover with foil.
This requires a very sharp chef’s knife and some patience; the squash is dense and thick and doesn’t want to be cut in half.
This requires a very sharp chef’s knife and some patience; the squash is dense and thick and doesn’t want to be cut in half. Score the skin around the outside and go around avoiding the stem, deeper into the flesh with each pass, keeping the tip of the knife visible, thus preventing you from accidentally puncturing your palm.
Into a 350 degree oven they go for about 40 minutes, until a knife pokes through the skin and flesh easily.
If the knife part is where the intimidation factor comes in, fear not. You can drop the whole squash into boiling water and cook it that way, for about an hour. It will be much easier to slice through, but you’ll have a hot squash bobbing around in boiling water so make sure you have a large slotted spoon or a spider to fish it out of the pot. Slice in half, remove seeds and proceed.
Like pumpkin seeds, all squash seeds can be separated from the net of flesh they are suspended in (compost that) and tossed with some oil, salt, pepper and spices of your choosing. Smear into a single layer on a baking sheet and toast at 400 degree until golden. Let cool completely and store in an air tight container until using for snacking or salad decorating.
Once your squash is cooked, let it get just cool enough to pick up. If you did the water roasting method, pour off the water to speed up this process. Use a clean tea towel if you’d like to hold the squash steady then drag a fork firmly across the cavity where the seeds were and viola! The flesh of the squash shreds into spaghetti.
It is delicious on its own with a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper as pictured at the beginning. Alternately, it pairs beautifully with a fresh heirloom tomato sauce. Just cook a few tomatoes chunked up in some oil with some garlic, salt and pepper and serve with a bit of grated hard cheese.
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