Up until recently, I’d always had a bit of trepidation when it came to winter squash. I found the vast array of varieties to be overwhelming, and since I didn’t love the texture of most summer squash, I reasoned I probably wasn’t missing out on much.
In fact, it was just last year that I finally decided to give it a try. I’d seen a few recipes on various food blogs, and some friends of mine were talking about the dishes they were making with this seasonal vegetable. My curiosity was piqued, and though I had my reservations, I cautiously tried The Pioneer Woman’s Spaghetti Squash with Maple Syrup and Shallots. Instantly, I was hooked. My textural fears were relieved as I fell in love with the golden, angel-hair-like strands.
With a name like spaghetti squash, it doesn’t take much imagination to start thinking about substituting it in place of traditional pasta. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m always on the lookout for ways to sneak more vegetables into my diet, and this seemed like an obvious opportunity. Though it doesn’t contain nearly the amount of dietary fiber as whole wheat spaghetti, the squash is still a good source of fiber as well as Vitamin C. For those watching their waistlines, the savings in calories is substantial.
Spaghetti squash has a natural sweetness that is mirrored in the tomato meat sauce by the addition of brown sugar. The onions, garlic, tomatoes, and mushrooms combine to create layered flavors that go well with the squash but can also be served with the pasta of your choosing. And although this recipe is heavy on vegetables, the high ratio of meat in the sauce ensures no one will be leaving the table hungry.
- 1 large spaghetti squash (or 2 smaller ones)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 8 ounces crimini or white button mushrooms, sliced
- 2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Place the spaghetti squash on a baking pan and roast at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until it pierces easily with a fork. Remove the squash from the oven and allow it to cool. Once it is cool enough to handle (I usually like to let it rest for about a half hour if I’ve got the time), cut it in half using a sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds and pulp with a spoon, and then, using a fork, scrape the inside of the squash halves. As you scrape, the squash will start to come out in spaghetti-like strands. Continue scraping until all of the squash has been separated from the outer skins. Toss the strands with a wee bit of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, and then set them aside until serving time.
- While your squash is cooking, heat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the diced onion. Sauté for 5 minutes, and then add the ground beef, garlic, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook the mixture until the meat is fully browned (stir only occasionally as needed; allowing the meat to have continuous contact with the pan will help it caramelize a bit for a richer flavor).
- Meanwhile, heat another skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the mushrooms and sauté for 6-8 minutes until mushrooms are golden brown (again stirring minimally since we want to get that golden color).
- Once the meat is browned, drain off fat if there is any (there shouldn’t be, but if you are using beef with a higher fat content, you may need to drain it a bit). Add the diced tomatoes (with liquid), tomato paste, water, mushrooms, brown sugar, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Adjust the seasonings according to your taste.
- Once the sauce is complete, serve it atop the spaghetti squash and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Tips and Tidbits
- In this recipe, I opted to use mushrooms, but feel free to add whatever veggies sound good to you. Carrot, celery, zucchini, and bell pepper would all make excellent additions. Cook heartier produce such as carrots and celery along with the onions; softer vegetables like zucchini and bell pepper should be sautéed with or in place of the mushrooms.
- Ground beef is an easy ingredient since it seems like I always have it on hand, but ground pork or ground Italian sausage would be scrumptious as well.
- To make this meal more weeknight-friendly, you can prepare the squash ahead of time. Just store it in an airtight container in your refrigerator and reheat when it’s serving time.
- For a richer flavor, you can substitute the red wine of your choice for the water or add a splash of heavy cream to the sauce.