Monday, March 28, 2011

Spaghetti Squash - A Leftover Magnet

Last night, I made a meal that Miriam said was "one of the best meals [I've] ever made." I was glad she liked it, but I was a little offended because I'd made it just to use up some leftovers. It got me thinking, though, that spaghetti squash makes an excellent leftover magnet. It's pretty neutral, so it mixes with just about anything you might have in your fridge. Also, the "meat and vegetables tossed with pasta" class of dishes isn't exactly on the weird end of the meal spectrum. Best of all, you can (and probably should) cook spaghetti squash in the microwave. Honestly, if you're making a meal out of leftovers, do you really want to fire up the oven? Of course not.

I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures, but it was a meal of leftovers so I didn't think about it. You'll just have to use your imagination.

In the fridge, I had leftover steak and broccolini from Saturday, and some sun-dried tomatoes from who-knows-when. I cooked the spaghetti squash in the microwave, and scraped it out into a large bowl. I cut the steak and broccolini into bite-sized pieces and reheated them in the microwave. I chopped the sun-dried tomatoes into very small pieces, because I don't like to have too much of their particular flavor in each bite. A little goes a long way. Then I tossed the steak, broccolini, and tomatoes with the spaghetti squash, and added a little olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

I tasted it then, and it was really good. If you stop there, you've got an excellent paleo meal on your hands. I did add one non-paleo ingredient after that, though. I added a sprinkle of a very hard cheese that I had grated very fine. I didn't feel too bad about it, because I didn't add much, and it was a "real" cheese, not in any way a "cheez." I tend to agree with Mark Sisson that the occasional high quality cheese is nothing to be scared of. If you don't agree, feel free not to use it. Like I said, the dish tasted good even without it.

So, that's what I did with my spaghetti squash. What you do with yours is up to you. Here are a few of my tips for successful spaghetti squash cooking to get you going.
  • Cook it in the microwave. I've tried several methods of cooking spaghetti squash, and I can't for the life of me tell any difference between a spaghetti squash that was roasted at 350 for an hour and one that was cooked in a microwave for 10 minutes. The microwave is way easier.
  • Don't cut it in half before putting it in the microwave, but be sure to puncture the skin many, many times. I like to use a steak knife to make the punctures, and I also always make sure to make at least three punctures that go very deep into the squash so that any steam from the middle can get out. I've had spaghetti squashes explode in the microwave when I wasn't diligent about this.
  • A small spaghetti squash takes about 7-10 minutes to cook in the microwave. A large one will take 10-12. You know it's done if it squishes a little bit when you squeeze it.
  • You'll need to use an oven mitt on one hand while splitting and scraping the hot squash. Waiting for it to cool is a fool's game. It takes forever, and let's face it, you wouldn't be cooking if you weren't hungry, so you might as well put on the mitt and get to it.
  • Use a large serrated knife (like a bread knife) to cut both ends off of the squash, and then cut it lengthwise down the middle. While you've got the knife out, go ahead and cut around the edge of where the seeds are. That will make it easier to remove them.
  • Scoop the seeds and seed-related pulp out of the center with a big spoon. Discard. (Or clean them and roast them and make a delightful centerpiece out of them if you're a budding Martha Stewart. I'm not.)
  • Use a fork to scrape the meat of each half of the squash into a large bowl. Scrape lengthwise. You should have a bowl of spaghetti-like strands.
  • I always like to add a little oil to the squash right after it goes into the bowl. I think it helps keep the strands separated.

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