As I’ve mentioned before, my father kept a huge garden when I was a kid and my childhood took place around the edges of meals filled with fresh produce. Squash, for whatever reason, wasn’t one of the vegetables he planted. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it might have been because squash vines are vigorous producers that require a lot of space. Large as it was, my dad’s garden space was limited–and he liked to grow a little bit of everything, not a whole lot of anything.
But whatever the reason for its absence from my childhood, squash is a vegetable I came to love as an adult. My first encounter with it came via the original Moosewood Cookbook, a staple in any budding vegetarian’s cookbook library. Then spaghetti squash drifted out of my life again, replaced by butternut and pumpkin, my true squash loves. Until this year, when I saw a spaghetti squash at the grocery store and noted how beautiful it was. Perfectly oblong. A bright, clear autumn yellow. Seriously, look at that photo. What’s not to love?
Once you’ve cut it open, spaghetti squash is a breeze to prepare. Cutting it open, however, is no easy feat: use a large, very sharp knife, lots of elbow grease, and an abundance of caution. (If you’re nervous about this step, here’s a video that demonstrates one technique for halving the squash.) Then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and strings; place the halves, cut side down, on a greased cookie sheet; and bake for about an hour at 375 degrees. After the squash has cooled enough to handle it, use a fork to separate the spaghetti-like strands from the hard shell.
The Foodie children had never tried spaghetti squash, so I knew I’d have to pair it with things they love if I was going to get them to give it a try. Although many people serve it like regular spaghetti–with tomato sauce–that’s actually not a combination I enjoy. So I decided to go in the other direction altogether: something creamy and mild to compliment the sweet flavor and slightly crunchy texture of the squash strands. I added spinach for iron, color, and a little fiber.
Much to my surprise, both of the Foodie children loved this. The Girl had to convince herself that she was eating pasta, “not guts,” but even she commented that the spaghetti squash was surprisingly tasty. We agreed that bacon or sausage would be a good addition, should we decide to add some meat to this recipe next time around. The Hubs said it reminded him of our days before children, when it was just the two of us, our Moosewood Cookbook, and our friend the spaghetti squash.
Spaghetti Squash with Spinach Cream Sauce
1 spaghetti squash
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
1 can evaporated milk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups spinach leaves, torn into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Halve the spaghetti squash, scoop out the strings and seeds, and place the squash (cut side down) on a greased cookie sheet. Roast for one hour, or until the squash is soft when pierced with a fork. Allow the squash to cool until it can be handled. Separate the spaghetti-like strands with a fork and transfer the squash to a large bowl. Cover with foil to keep it warm.
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Whisk in the flour until smooth; cook for three or four minutes, until thick and bubbly. Stir in the evaporated milk a little at a time, whisking to keep the mixture smooth. Stir in the grated Parmesan, then season to taste with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. (If the sauce is too thick, use milk or broth to thin it. Add only a tablespoon at a time and whisk to incorporate the liquid before adding more.) Stir in the torn spinach; it will wilt in the heat and turn bright green.
At this point, you have two options: stir the spaghetti squash into the sauce and serve like risotto, or pile the squash strands on plates, like spaghetti, and top with sauce. We prefer the first option, topped with additional Parmesan cheese, but the choice is yours.