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Rescuing spaghetti squash from years of bad marketing

Cut spaghetti squash across the middle, rather than end to end, so that you'll end up with long strands of squash.
Cut spaghetti squash across the middle, rather than end to end, so that you'll end up with long strands of squash.

Here’s one thing I know for sure. Spaghetti squash tastes nothing like spaghetti. 

Yes, its fibers resemble spaghetti but as we all know well, appearances can be deceiving. 

I recently was re-introduced to spaghetti squash at Ford’s Lobster in Noank. With three, perfect, local scallops on top, they served it baked in a little ramekin with butter and Asiago cheese, a hard, salty, richly flavored Italian cheese. It was spectacular. 

Previous to that, my experience with spaghetti squash had been less memorable. I vaguely recall my mom preparing it as if it were spaghetti, topping it with tomato sauce. It was not received well. Then I think I attempted a spaghetti squash casserole recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook, which also did not get rave reviews. 

The problem, I suggest, may be the name. I imagine some late 19th-century farmer growing a crazy squash with a stringy interior. Maybe his wife cooked one and discovered that the strings could be teased apart and used like noodles. Then, perhaps, some government agricultural official came along and saw dollar signs. 

A little Googling reveals that the seeds for the original plant were delivered from China to a Japanese seed company, which introduced them here in the 1930s. Soon, the Burpee Seed Company was selling them, but let’s just say they weren’t the most popular item in the catalog. 

During the lean World War II years, people began growing spaghetti squash in their victory gardens. But the war ended and so did spaghetti squash’s run. 

We can thank baby boomers for today’s widespread availability of spaghetti squash. In the California of the 1970s, this stringy squashed floated up on the wave of hippie counterculture as a healthy alternative to processed foods. 

It’s had other names — vegetable spaghetti, noodle squash, and my favorite, squaghetti — but they all have alluded to an unrealistic link to pasta. And not only that, but all this time we’ve apparently been cutting it the wrong way. 

The fibers wrap around the squash’s circumference, not stem to stern. So if you cut it the long way, you chop all the fibers in half. Instead, cut it into rings, then cut out the seeds and bake the individual rings. This way, you’ll have nice long threads, much more interesting than a bunch of short fringe. 

In an attempt to mimic Ford’s dish, I sautéed a variety of mushrooms in olive oil and butter, then layered them in a casserole dish that I’d sprayed with cooking spray, with the squash threads and some grated Gruyere cheese. The result was succulent, rich and nutty. My husband nearly ate the whole pan. 

So I’m not giving up on spaghetti squash, or as I like to call it, not-spaghetti squash. I’ll report back as I discover new ways to prepare it. Let me know how you serve it. 

Enjoy!

Baked Not-Spaghetti Squash 

1 big or 2 small spaghetti squash 

Olive oil 

Salt and pepper 

2 cloves garlic, minced 

Parmesan cheese 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. 

Lop off the ends of your squash and slice it across the middle into 1-inch rings. It’s a pretty tough squash, so be careful. Keep your fingers out of the way. 

Run a knife around the interior of each ring to remove the seeds. Brush each ring with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the rings, oil side down, onto a baking sheet, then oil and season the top side. 

The original recipe said to bake the rings for 40 minutes, but that isn’t enough in my oven. Set the timer for 40 minutes then check the rings. A dinner fork should easily pierce the flesh and it should easily flake into its fibers. I find that it takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. 

While the squash is cooking, gently sauté the minced garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil (or a combination of olive oil and butter). Don’t brown the garlic. Keep it on medium-low heat and let it melt gently into the oil. 

When tender, peel the skin away and separate the strands. Dress the squash with your garlic and olive oil and toss with a generous amount of Parmesan cheese. 

Original recipe from eatwithinyourmeans.com. Jill Blanchette is the multiplatform production manager at The Day. Share recipes and comments with her at j.blanchette@theday.com.

Baked spaghetti squash with gruyere cheese and mushrooms
Baked spaghetti squash with gruyere cheese and mushrooms
After baking, tease the squash threads away from the rind.
After baking, tease the squash threads away from the rind.

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