Walking in A Winter… Squash Patch

Harvest of the Month: Winter Squash — Poughkeepsie Farm Project
Image courtesy of FarmProject.org

A few weeks ago, the produce section was overrun with all the varieties of winter squash one could possibly hope for. I was eager to snag a sample of each variety and take them home for experimentation! A couple didn’t turn out as well as we’d hoped. Whether it was the recipe that didn’t suit us or the simple fact that we just didn’t care for the squash itself… I don’t know. Maybe we’ll just need to try them again next year with a different preparation. Less sweet, more savory perhaps. On the other hand, many of the recipes came out far better than I initially expected.

I have made spaghetti squash in the past. I recall it just being… ho-hum. So-so. A little boring really. Nothing truly outstanding; but since it was so bright and beautiful and in season now, I decided to give it another go. I am so glad I did too! The preparation I worked with this time could definitely be considered a “safe” one. Playing it safe isn’t necessarily a cop out. I choose to see it as making baby steps. After trying out this preparation of Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, I feel like I’m primed to take on spaghetti squash with a different flavor profile next.

The W. Atlee Burpee and Co. seed suppliers brought the seeds over from Japan in 1936 and made a cultivar of the original readily accessible to the homefront gardeners during the war years. You can still buy a variety of spaghetti squash seeds from Burpee to this day. Hint: The darker the color, the greater the carotenoids! With origins in Asia, it’s easy to see it used in Asian dishes due to it’s indistinct flavor; however it was shifted into more of an Italian use during WW2 as an easy swap for noodles in Italian dishes when rationing made processed foods more difficult to come by on a regular basis.

WW2 was a time when many people were growing Victory Gardens in their front flower beds, kitchen windowsills, and backyards in order to supplement their weekly rations. Portions of public parks were even converted to community gardens to help alleviate the food shortages stateside. And here you thought Victory Gardens were a “thing” of 2020 only! With the recent revival in home-grown food in recent years (and especially this year), many farm-to-table type businesses have pivoted to offer planning services to urban farmers to help them start home food gardens of their own. It’s been a dream of mine to one day plan and grow a Victory Garden of my own on our own property not just for us but also to bless friends & family alike.

When you’re dealing with something called “spaghetti” squash nowadays, you kinda’ come to expect a dish with an Italian flair. Due to its texture, one could more readily get on board with an Asian dish, but “Sweet & Smokey” and Southwestern are a bit of a stretch in my humble opinion. The first attempted recipe (courtesy of my Good Housekeeping cookbook) turned out so well though, that I’m keen to take on the rest without hesitation. Good Housekeeping has been working out recipes in its institute at least since 1932 when it added a Food & Cookery department, so it’s a little more trustworthy for home cooks than your average run-of-the-mill cooking website. When friends ask me for my favorite recipes, I tend to point them towards time-tested recipes from brands like GH and Better Homes and Betty Crocker.

My spin adds a few extra basic ingredients for flavor and personal preference, but stays pretty true to the original. I just added more veg and herbs to punch up the overall flavors without detracting from the simple, clean flavors already present in the recipe. If so desired, you also could add a 1/4c sliced celery and 1/4c shredded carrots to the onion and garlic during the sauté to round out a proper mirepoix for an even more of full-bodied tomato sauce. Additionally, you could swap half of the oil for butter. You’ll find my take on the recipe below!

Ingredients:
1med spaghetti squash
2c veggie broth (or water)
3tbsp EVOO/grapeseed oil
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1sm red onion, sliced very thin
28oz can diced tomatoes, drained (or 4med tomatoes, roughly chopped)
1/2tsp kosher salt
1/2tsp fresh cracked black pepper
2tbsp chopped fresh basil
2tbsp chopped fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
Fresh shredded parm

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 400°. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.
2) Place both cut sides down in a 9×13 baking dish and slowly add the broth to dish around the squash. Bake for 45min. Flip the squash halves and bake 15min more.
3) During the final 15min, in a large skillet, sauté the chopped garlic and onion in oil over medium heat until fragrant and softened. Add in the diced tomatoes with the salt & pepper. Cook 5min. Turn heat to low/warm and stir in the basil and parsley.
4) When the squash is cooked, use a fork to shred the inside of the squash. Scoop the resulting shreds onto plates and smother with tomato mixture. You can use some of the broth to thin the tomato mixture if needed.
5) Sprinkle with fresh parm and enjoy hot!

The texture of the spaghetti squash is a bit like the rice noodles I used in my recent take on Pho. The strands are tender and delicate and create the perfect vessel for the flavorful sauce. Like tofu, spaghetti squash is both mild and neutral allowing it to absorb all the flavors around it. It isn’t sweet like other winter squashes and definitely carries a more assertive texture, but in this case that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Typical winter squashes when baked/roasted produce more of a soft, puree-type texture which makes for a great pumpkin pie! (Yes, pumpkins are a type of winter squash.) However, I know of no one who’s making a pie out of this type of winter squash.

In my experience, Acorn is sweet like Sugar Pie Pumpkins, but is similar to butternut with a touch of stringiness (though not quite as much as Spaghetti Squash). Delicata and Carnival were both sweet, but roasted with more savory notes, turned out to be just as winning as Butternut in our house. Honeynut was far too similar to Butternut for me to make a solid distinction, but I have plans to try it again in more risotto this month for a potluck at church. This week I intend to roast some Red Kuri Squash wedges with shallots. (There are a few more varieties I intend to explore, but I’ll either have to grown them myself or wait for them to appear in my local market.) Kabocha is by far our least favorite sadly. This is an instance where I think another recipe may be helpful. Pinterest is such a great tool for finding recipes for new ingredients!

One medium-small spaghetti squash easily fed both of us adequately along with a side of Italian sausages. One large one could easily feed a family of four with the addition of a garden fresh salad and/or warm garlic bread. Sure we both really like pasta and spaghetti squash can never replace steaming piles of fresh durum-wheat-made noodles, but this was a terrifically light and delicious dinner in a season of starchy, heavy overeating. We both felt completely satisfied with none of the guilt that usually accompanies Italian night at the Smith Haus.

As mentioned before, there are so many ideas to follow this dish with. A little more bravery to attend. I could easily see using the strands of spaghetti squash in place of the rice noodles in the Pho recipe or swirling them into a taco soup (or mixing them with pickled red onions to top a tostada). I could also imagine using spaghetti squash to fortify sloppy joes to get more veggies into your kids’ diets or as a base for Cincinnati chili in place of the noodles. Another option is to mix it with green beans or broccoli for the ubiquitous Southern casseroles sprinkled with everyone’s favorite French’s Crispy Fried Onions.

Once you get to thinking about it, there really are so many possibilities! Yes, it won’t be the exact same, but once you get past that part… It’s really ok. No one is asking you to permanently replace all your pasta et al with spaghetti squash. I’m not a health guru. (If you want sound clean eating advice, you can see my dear friend LeAndria over at B Fit with LA.) You could even eat your spaghetti squash with good old fashioned pasta if you want! I’m just urging you to expand your palate a bit and explore more culinary opportunities.

Image courtesy of A Little Rosemary and Time

My husband loves Summer squash and will eat it like it’s going out of style, so it was really easy to get him on board with trying all the winter squash varietals. What are the winning veggies in your house?

Currently Reading: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Scripture of the Day: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” ~Genesis 1:29

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