By Elizabeth Karmel, Associated Press
A few years ago when everyone I knew was on the Paleo diet, I started making spaghetti squash and topping it with meat sauce to feed my dinner party guests who were off carbs. I grew up eating spaghetti squash with butter and Parmesan cheese, so I have always had a taste for it, and more and more it seems an easy way to get an extra vegetable into my diet.
But, spaghetti squash is hard to cut. That deters a lot of people I know from buying it and baking it as a delicious side dish or as a pasta substitute. One night last fall, my sister and I were discussing this and decided to experiment with cooking the squash whole and removing the seeds after cooking it.
We weren’t sure it would work, or how difficult it would be to remove the seeds once it was baked. Turns out, it was easy. We baked the squash for an hour in a pre-heated 350 F oven. After an hour, we turned off the heat and let the squash continue baking in the residual heat for 30 minutes. You can tell if it is done if a small thin knife sticks into the squash as easily as room temperature butter. Take care not to overcook the squash — you want the squash to retain its shape and not collapse on itself.
When the resting time was up, the squash was very soft and you could easily cut it in half lengthwise. The seeds were also simple to remove with a spoon— no more difficult that removing them from an uncooked squash.
I raked a fork across the length of the half of squash and it instantly fell into strands. I lightly dressed the strands with olive oil, chopped herbs and grated Parmesan cheese and placed it in a bowl. You could serve it like this as a side dish or add a quick meat sauce for an easy and healthy one-bowl meal.
BAKED SPAGHETTI SQUASH WITH MEAT SAUCE
Start to finish: 90 minutes (30 minutes active)
1 large spaghetti squash, washed and stickers removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef, such as sirloin
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
1 8-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/8 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place spaghetti squash on the rack and set a sheet pan under the squash. Bake for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and cook until brown, breaking up with fork, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to plate.
Add onion and garlic to skillet and saute until onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
Stir in basil, oregano and paprika and continue cooking 1 minute. Return beef to skillet; add tomatoes, tomato paste and wine. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until sauce is thick, about 30 minutes. (Note: Can be prepared up to 3 days ahead. Refrigerate in an air-tight container and bring to simmer before continuing.)
After an hour, test squash for doneness by inserting a small paring knife through the center. If it is soft, turn off the heat and close the oven door. Let squash rest and finish cooking in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove squash and cut in half. Remove seeds with a spoon and rake the spaghetti squash with a fork into a serving bowl. This will release the strands. Toss strands with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the parsley and half the cheese. Place the meat sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. This can be served family style or plated individually.
Nutrition information per serving: 446 calories; 161 calories from fat; 18 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 77 mg cholesterol; 652 mg sodium; 36 g carbohydrate; 8 g fiber; 16 g sugar; 31 g protein.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”