Monday, November 5, 2007

The Tastes, They Are a-Changin’: Spaghetti Squash Casserole

I’m turning 30 tomorrow. It’s the kind of age that brings up a lot of questions. Were my 20s spent wisely? Am I where I expected to be at this age? Why, after 90,000 days on this planet, do I still suck at buying bras? (Has Oprah taught me NOTHING?)

Being a food blogger/freak, I’ve also wondered (a LOT) how much my tastes will continue to change. Will my palate dull over time? Will I hate candy at 40? Love anise at 55? Will Werther’s Originals ever, ever appeal to me, even when I’m old enough to call Methuselah a punk kid? (“Get off mah lawn, old man!”)

My diet has become markedly different over the last decade alone, especially in the produce department. Man-oh-MAN, I did not like vegetables as a kid. But once I hit 20, they magically became somewhat appetizing. Except for spaghetti squash. That took a few more years, and here’s why...

When my brother, sister and I were growing up, Ma made us dinner nearly every night. On the rare evenings she was whisked away for work, Pa would sub in. Most of the time, he was pretty good at producing a meal for three ravenous kidlings. Burgers, pizza, pasta – the guy could handle it, no sweat.

Occasionally, he would get creative. And while most meals went over well (Chicken and Broccoli, sucka!), one blindsided us completely: Texas Chainsaw Chili and Spaghetti Squash, a.k.a. Two Terrible Tastes That Tasted Like Evil Together.

Being pale, spice-free, Swedish-Irish types, my siblings and I recoiled at the chili’s red pepper and obscene beanery. It looked like roadkill, and the flavor was about the same. The spaghetti squash was equally (and possibly actively) malevolent, possibly because we were tricked by the name into believing it would be real spaghetti. Alas, it was not. And as food was not wasted in our household, Pa made each of us sit at the dinner table until our plates were licked clean. Three hours later, I hadn’t eaten a bite, so I was sent to bed sans dinner.

Thanks to that comparatively-not-really-traumatic experience, I loathed spaghetti squash for nearly two decades. (Chili for only one.) Then, earlier this year a few friends and I traveled to Victoria BC, where we were served Spaghetti Squash Casserole. Not wanting to insult my hosts, I took a bite. And then another. And then had some wine. And then took 12 more bites. And then … you get the picture.

Was spaghetti squash always really good and I just didn’t know it, or have my tastes changed that wildly over the years? The reality of 30 is pushing me towards explanation #2, but I probably won’t be positive for another decade or so. I’ll continue to analyze and let y’all know in 2017. (Lucky you.)

Aaaaanyway, back to the food. I got this recipe from a friend, who got it from a friend, who may have read it in a cookbook. I do not know the name of the cookbook (if it exists), or I would type it right here. Instead (especially after the Jessica Seinfeld brouhaha), I will just say – THIS IS NOT MY RECIPE. But it IS good. And healthy. And cheap. And it will make you like spaghetti squash, no matter how old you are.

(SIDE NOTES: This is a good, filling main dish for company, and much tastier if you use a heavy hand with the herbs/spices. High reheat potential, too.)

Spaghetti Squash Casserole
5 servings
Adapted from a wonderful, albeit unknown source.

1 spaghetti squash (about 4 lbs.)
¼ - ½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs (or a regular breadcrumbs and many dried herbs)
1/3 cup pignoli (pine) nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup marinara sauce
1 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella

(Instructions provided by Rachel, the Cheap Healthy Gourmet)

1) Preheat oven to 400. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and cooking spray.

2) Take a paring knife, and poke a million holes in the exterior of the squash.

3) Bake the squash until the outside is beginning to brown, and hull gets mushy. This usually took about 45 minutes or so for me (90 minutes for me - Kris), and I'd flip the squash once or twice during the process. Depending on the thickness of the shell and the size of the bugger, it may take more or less time. I'd start keeping an intermittent eye on it after about 30 minutes.

4) When brownness has been achieved, take the squash out of the oven, and allow it to cool. When it's cool enough to touch, split the beast in two lengthwise, and de-seed it; toss seeds in the trash. Then, scrape the meat out of it with a fork, dragging your utensil down lengthwise. As you scrape down, the strands should separate from the shell, so that you're just left with the hull. Put the warm strands in a bowl, and the hull in the trash.

5) While the squash is baking, toast 1/3 cup of pignoli (pine) nuts, and measure out 1/4-1/2 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs. (If you don't-a-gotta da seasoned stuff, just throw in a lot of dried parsley, basil and oregano, or whatever you like that you've got lying around.)

6) Combine squash with the pignolis, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Put in a shallow 8"x8" (or approximate) baking dish that you've sprayed a little cooking spray on.

7) Take about 1 cup of marinara sauce, and spread like frosting across the top. Sprinkle mozzarella on top.

8) Cover with tin foil, and bake for about 10 minutes, or until bubbly. Remove tin foil, and bake for another 5. Serve and go yum.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
287 calories, 12 g fat, $1.38

Calculations
1 spaghetti squash: 491 calories, 4.7 g fat, $2.84
¼ - ½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs: 142 calories, 1.9 g fat, $0.18
1/3 cup pignoli (pine) nuts: 270 calories, 23.7 g fat, $2.09
Salt and pepper to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 cup marinara sauce: 172 calories, 10 g fat, $0.70
1 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella: 360 calories, 20 g fat, $1.09
TOTAL: 1435 calories, 60.3 g fat, $6.92
PER SERVING: 287 calories, 12 g fat, $1.38

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3 comments:

Ellen said...

happy b'day-if it makes you feel better just tell people you are twenty ten and yes you will always love candy. i enjoy your writings very much keep up the good work.

Heidi said...

This recipe looks *awesome*. I've been a spaghetti squash lover ever since I had this dish on epicurious:
Spaghetti Squash with Sausage Filling

One hint on cooking the spaghetti squash - you can take a quick shortcut by cooking it in the microwave:

1) Cut the raw squash in half (not easy - I use a cleaver and a hammer to pound it in)

2) Scoop out the seeds with a melon baller (Saves you from burning your hands when you do it raw)

3) Wrap one half in saran wrap, and zap in microwave on high for 7 minutes

4) Remove from microwave, and let sit for ~ 5 minutes to steam while you nuke the other half.

5) Once the two halves have cooled down enough, you can scrape out the innards just like if it were baked.

Hope this saves you some time!

Kris said...

Thank you, Ellen! I hope to eventually start using fractions - right now, I'm 120 over 4.

And Heidi - NICE. I wish I had even thought of microwaving. It would have saved about 20 years of prep.