What Spaghetti Squash Tastes Like, According to a Spaghetti Squash Skeptic
The spaghetti squash had been sitting on my counter for well over a week, mocking me. I would look at it every day and think to myself, Today is the day! But by the time dinner rolled around, I would chicken out.
Earlier this fall, I admitted to fellow Be Well blogger, Adjua, that I was secretly terrified and dubious of spaghetti squash. “I refuse to believe it actually tastes like spaghetti,” I told her, referencing the gazillion Italian-on-a-diet recipes promising a seamless swap between carb-heavy pasta and low-carb spaghetti squash. “Plus, it just looks … ick.” I think I actually shuddered while saying that.
I assumed there had to be some sort of spaghetti-squash conspiracy, wherein everyone was in secret agreement that the stuff is just plain nasty but publicly on the Internet were somehow duty-bound to profess its top-to-bottom deliciousness. At the very least, I figured, the powerful Spaghetti Squash Lobby was definitely paying people to say it was a worthy swap for pasta.
Still, I was curious about all the spaghetti-squash fuss — curious enough to actually go out and buy one, with every intention of finally, once and for all, putting the spaghetti-squash question to rest. Surprisingly, my pepperoni pizza-loving husband, Chris, was game for the experiment, too. But a week later, the squash was still staring at me from its place underneath the windowsill.
Last night, I decided enough was enough — the week-old gourd was going to be eaten, and it was going to be eaten tonight. “We’re having spaghetti squash for dinner,” I announced, trying to sound more confident in my decision than I actually felt inside. “Let us begin.”
All the recipes I found called for halving the squash, scooping out the pumpkin-like seeds, then roasting it for the better part of an hour. Step one: cutting the thing in half. As I sized it up, I quickly realized that I would need to employ my largest butcher knife, and even still I needed Chris’s help. A few sketchy jabs later — I really did think one of us would lose a finger or two — we were through.
It looked much as I expected inside: like an albino, oblong pumpkin, with seeds to match. I gently scooped out the seeds while preserving as much of the meat (Is that what the innards are called? Sure.) as possible, and popped the halves into a 375-degree oven, face down in a glass Pyrex baking dish with a quarter cup of water. There they sat for 30 minutes, at which point I flipped them face up for another 20 or so minutes until they were tender.
I noticed as it roasted that the squash filled my house with a sweet, toasted smell, so I was hopeful this thing would at least be edible. In the meantime, I sautéed up two boneless skinless chicken breasts seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika. Once they were cooked, I set them to the side to cool, then cut them into strips.
After nearly an hour in the oven, the squash seemed ready enough. With much trepidation, I set it on my countertop and got to work with my fork, pulling the tines long-ways along the insides. Much to my surprise, what had before seemed like dense, spongy innards now shredded nicely. It looked like thin, short pieces of angel hair pasta, and was the color and consistency of day-old Chinese takeout noodles: yellowy, organe-ish, kind of wet. Still, it smelled pretty darn good.
Then it was on to the final step: I heated up some oil and dropped in a few cloves of minced garlic. When they started to brown, the chicken went into the pot along with the squash. I turned the heat down to let it all come together, and sprinkled the concoction with more salt, pepper and paprika. Then, as is my way, I added a heaping handful of spinach — because, why not? — and let it wilt.
When all was said and done, I had what appeared to amount to a pile of slop. “Slop’s up,” I said to Chris when it was ready. “I hope you have the takeout menus handy.”
You guys: We did NOT need the takeout menus. Once we got over how it looked, we were surprised to find that it was really, REALLY good. The squash was indeed sweet, and paired perfectly with the chicken. And I know I didn’t come up with an Earth-shattering mix of seasonings, but I think that’s why this dish was so good: It allowed the natural flavors of the food to come through. The biggest surprise of all was that, looks aside, the squash did still have some crunch to it, and it wasn’t at all textureless slop. Or at least, it was the best darn tasting slop we’d ever had.
I still maintain that spaghetti squash is not a particularly fair substitute for pasta. I can’t imagine how the sweet squash would taste covered in tomato sauce and topped with a meatball. Actually, I can imagine it: I think it would be gross.
But taken on its own, spaghetti squash makes for a delicious side or main dish, one that I intend to repeat several more times over the next few weeks. I’d like to play around with the spices and seasonings to see what other flavors I can come up with. Any suggestions, spaghetti squash veterans? I’m all ears.
And those who are skeptical, I can tell you with all honesty to get over it. This stuff’s too good not to eat again and again.
Easy Garlic, Spinach and Chicken Spaghetti Squash
Serves two as a main dish or four as a side dish
1 spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup water
2 medium chicken breasts, sprinkled with salt, pepper and paprika
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic
Handful fresh baby spinach
Salt, pepper and paprika to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Put the halves face down in a lightly greased glass baking dish, and add 1/4 cup water. Place the halves in the oven for 30 minutes, then flip them face-up for another 20-30 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they’re fork tender.
- While the squash roasts, sauté the chicken, about 5 minutes a side, until fully cooked. Place aside to cool for five to 10 minutes. Slice the chicken into bite-size pieces.
- When the squash is done, scoop the insides out with a fork, running the tines lengthwise along the insides to get nice long noodle-like strings. Put the squash scoops into a bowl.
- Heat up a large, deep pan to medium heat with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the garlic. After about two minutes, when the garlic gets very fragrant, add the chicken pieces and squash to the pot and mix. Add spinach.
- Season with salt, pepper and paprika to your liking. Stir the mixture until heated through and the spinach has wilted. Serve immediately.
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