Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It’s All about the Squash

A new relationship comes with the standard introductions to the other person’s friends, hobbies and interests, favorite foods, and coworkers. The holidays can be particularly interesting when something fresh starts. When I received an invitation to attend an informal holiday work party with a new significant other, I was up for it but not quite sure what to expect when I was told about the gift exchange. In past years items given included yard flamingos, meat with lottery cards tucked in the gut, and unmentionables. Ready to give this group of engineers a glimpse into my sense of humor, I brought the best-selling Susan Boyle CD and an iTunes gift card. What did I get in return? A three-pound squash wrapped in newspaper and covered with chocolate Santa Clauses, from Craig’s boss, of course.

Yankee swap spaghetti squash

It appeared everyone at the gathering knew what this oblong, monster vegetable was and how to prepare it; thankfully, I work at Storey, and resources abounded.

According to cookbook author Andrea Chesman, spaghetti squash gets its name from the inside flesh that turns into long, spaghetti-like strands after it is baked or boiled. In the Classic Zucchini Cookbook, she said that although many recommend serving spaghetti squash as a pasta substitute, it is probably better to acknowledge its sweet flavor and work with it as a winter squash (which has the same distressing tendency).

The results of baking and shredding

Preparing it is as simple as carving a pumpkin, and roasting the seeds for snacking is just as appealing.

1. Slice vertically.

2. Scoop out the insides.

3. Place cut side down, and bake in a pan with ½ or 3/4 of an inch of water in the bottom at 400°F for 30 minutes.

The seeds can be roasted with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, then baked for 20 minutes, also at 400°.

Scooping the seeds

Spaghetti squash seeds ready to eat

Many filling meals can come out of one oversized spaghetti squash. The first one we tried was combined with an old family sauce recipe (which I am not giving away!) — homemade meatballs and spicy Italian sausage — a meal that is actually light enough for summer consumption.

Meatball mixture:

1½ lb ground beef

½ onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves

2 eggs

Salt and pepper

Bread crumbs

Romano cheese

Parsley (if you have)

1. Mix all ingredients well with fork or fingers. Shape into meatballs, and place on cookie sheet.

2. Brown in oven at 350°F for about 10 minutes; then turn meatballs and brown another 5 minutes or so (you can also brown on the stove on medium heat in a frying pan if you prefer).

3. Remove from cookie sheet, and set on plain white paper towels to absorb some of the grease; then add to sauce along with Italian sausage to taste.

4. Combine on top of shredded spaghetti squash.

Next up was my newfound favorite, Cheesy Spaghetti Squash:

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

2 plum tomatoes, chopped

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

Toss squash strands with Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil.

Serves 4-6

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash

Of course, a spaghetti squash dinner would not be complete without dessert. Break out the Butter Boy, brown sugar, and cinnamon for a filling way to end the meal. Serve hot: microwave tossed strands, covered, on high power for 2 to 3 minutes if necessary. Sprinkle in brown sugar and cinnamon, to taste, along with a slab of butter from the Butter Boy. Also serves 4 to 6. Be sure to pair with a red wine, Shiraz, if possible.

Spaghetti squash as dessert

Any leftover spaghetti squash can be eaten simply, with butter, salt, pepper, and a side of bread. Perfect for lunch the next day and for causing envy from your coworkers.

Although the squash is an American staple in cooking and preserving, it can also be an object of art. Half of the gourd did survive the other night of culinary experimentation . . . stay tuned.

Michelle Blackley, Senior Publicist

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