Spaghetti squash belongs to a group called winter squashes because its hard rind makes it suitable for long-term storage in the fall and winter months. The flesh of the spaghetti squash separates into noodle-like fibers after it's cooked. Its sweet, mildly nutty flavor and low calorie content make it a flavorful substitution for pasta in many recipes.
Choosing a Squash
Immature spaghetti squashes have poor flavor and texture, and the strands may not separate readily from the cooked squash. A fully mature squash has a creamy yellow skin and a hard skin. Green spots or a greenish tinge on the skin indicate the squash didn't ripen fully. Choosing smooth-skinned, fully yellow squash ensures the vegetable has already developed its full flavor and is ready for preparation.
The steam that builds up inside the squash causes it to explode or crack if ventilation isn't provided. Poking it all over with the tines of a fork provides holes that allow steam to escape. Cooking the squash for too long makes the strands mushy and they lose their sweet flavor. Baking for 45 minutes in a 350- to 400-degree Fahrenheit oven ensures the strands remain tender yet firm.
Separating the Strands
The squash continues cooking from heat built up within the rind even after it's removed from the oven. Cutting it in half immediately allows any excess steam to escape and stops the cooking process. Once the squash cools enough to handle, scoop out the seeds from the center, then begin separating the spaghetti-like strands from the rind. A fork works well for strand removal -- just scrape the tines down the length of the squash and place the separated strands in a bowl.
Nearly any sauce that you serve on pasta works well with spaghetti squash. Tomato-based sauces may overpower the sweet flavor of the squash if used heavily, but using just enough to coat the strands lets the flavor still shine through. An olive oil and Parmesan-based sauce allows you to fully enjoy the sweet and nutty flavor of the squash. Most cooked vegetables, including summer squash, tomatoes, peppers and onions, also complement the flavor of the squash. The squash also makes a suitable replacement for pasta in soups and salads.
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