Many years ago one of my sisters and I were joking around, got giggly and started pretending we were little kids having temper tantrums and demanding spaghetti squash. We flailed about on the floor, pummeled the carpet with our fists and, through racking sobs, demanded “Pisgetti squash.” Then we’d collapse in peals of laughter.
It probably wasn’t that funny when we were kids, and it certainly isn’t funny now that we’re middle-aged adults. Alas, that doesn’t stop us from occasionally reprising the spaghetti squash schtick whenever we get together, much to the dismay of our spouses and children.
The fact is, I’ve never met anyone who likes spaghetti squash as well as my sister. As a starving medical student, she ate it with green-canister Parmesan cheese and ketchup. But her cooking became more sophisticated with time, while her love of spaghetti squash never abated.
She has since stirred tomato sauce into it and melted cheese over the top (Spaghetti Squash Italiano!), added maple syrup and walnuts (Vermonter’s Delight!), and blended it with large curd cottage cheese and Mrs. Dash seasoning (Weird Low-Cal Concoction Only My Sister Can Stomach!).
Me, I’ve always liked spaghetti squash well enough but found that the times it was served to me at other people’s homes and in restaurants was sufficient. I have never felt the need to, say, work it into the familial vegetable rotation. I’m much more likely to buy a butternut or acorn squash, cook it until it’s soft, creamy and perfectly submissive, and then make a hard sell to the family by blending in copious amounts of fat. Butter, cream cheese and the like can do a lot to recommend the creamy texture of winter squash.
But spaghetti squash, by its nature, resists this treatment. You need to cook it until it is no longer firm but not yet totally soft. It should yield to a fork, but just enough to separate into those long strands. You don’t want it crisp, per se, but it should have enough body to twirl around a fork like actual spaghetti.
When I was shopping recently at the DeKalb Farmers Market I espied an enormous and overflowing bin of spaghetti squash, and so I began texting my sister pictures of it. After some ensuing silliness, I decided I should at least buy and cook one.
I decided to go with the popular two-stage method of preparation. First you have to cut it lengthwise, a process I like because it gives me an opportunity to take out my heaviest knife and make a satisfying thwack. But if you prefer not to thwack them, you can make a couple of incisions in the squash and put it in the microwave for three or four minutes to soften enough to cut with ease. There is no shame.
Then you scoop out the seeds like you would for any squash and put the cut side down in a pan with a half-inch of water and roast it at 350 degrees. After 45 minutes, you take the squash out and turn the halves so the cut side is up.
And now you decide which way you’re going to go with this thing: more spaghetti or more squash?
I opt for more squash and put a tablespoon of butter, two tablespoons of maple syrup and a good sprinkle of salt in each half. I cover them with foil and return them to the oven for about 20 minutes.
Now comes the fun part. With two forks I begin pulling the strings of squash away from the shell and toss them with the melted butter and syrup pooled in the cavities.
This squash looks terrific served right in its half shells: two big, appealing mounds of spaghetti-like substance. The flavor is nice, too, perched right on the edge between sweet and salty. The family makes appreciative noises about this relatively healthy dinner item, though I don’t think anyone is actively in love with it.
I begin to plot my next spaghetti squash. Maybe some roasted pecans or plumped white raisins should be tossed in at the end. Or even some pesto and Parmesan cheese. I had best consult my sister. After 30 years of joking about spaghetti squash, I now want to learn how to cook it.