Low-Carb Swap of the Week: How to cook Spaghetti Squash

How to cook Spaghetti Squash

You don’t have to spiralise spaghetti squash – nature’s already done it for you! It separates into noodle-like strands when cooked and scooped from its shell. It’s in-season now, so learn the best way to cook it, save tons of carbs and calories over pasta, and boost your vegetable intake too.

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– How to Cook Spaghetti Squash
– Nutrition Count: Regular Wheat-based Spaghetti vs. Spaghetti Squash
– Health Benefits

The yellow, oval spaghetti squash takes it name from the fact that, once cooked, its flesh tumbles out in long spaghetti-like strands when scraped out of its skin with a fork. So make no mistake here – I’m not talking about butternut squash, or anything else, that you may have spiralised to make into noodle shapes, or bought pre-noodled in supermarkets. This is nature’s own pre-spaghettified vegetable!

Spaghetti Squash

If you’re in the UK, then you may not actually have come across a spaghetti squash before. For some reason, they’re not in the shops very often here, as I get the impression they are far more in places likes the US – presumably because they are native to Central America. And I’ve yet, personally, to find it on a restaurant menu.

But this relative of courgettes (zucchini) and acorn squash is an absolutely excellent low-carb, low-calorie, gluten-free swap for pasta. So when I do see some in the shops, I snaffle up as many as possible, since they are hardy and keep a relatively long time (much beyond what the sell-by date says), and it’s also possible to freeze them after cooking.

And there does indeed seem to have been a spaghetti squash consignment arrive in the UK recently, as last week I was able to scoop up five specimens in my local Waitrose (although they have not appeared online). And I happen to be in Brighton this weekend and here they are in the shops TODAY!

IMG_1319
A rare sighting of Spaghetti Squash caught on camera nestling up to their cousins in Waitrose, Brighton on 21 July 2017

Have a shop around and I hope you can find them too. And if you can’t, then you could always have a go at growing them yourself.

So – assuming you can get hold of some spaghetti squash one way or another – then I’m giving you my recipe for how to cook them here, as IMHO, many recipes you’ll find online get it wrong on a couple of points, if you went to get the best consistency and texture.

My way of cooking them does that, firstly, through making sure you cut the squash the right way – that is, widthways – not lengthways. The reason is because the fleshy-strands that fall out as spaghetti run around the squash’s circumference, not down the length. So, if you cut the squash vertically, you would be cutting them in half. But if you cut it horizontally, you will keep nice long – and more spaghetti-like – strands.

Second – to optimise the texture of the cooked squash and stop water seeping out of it into your plate and diluting your lovely sauce – I add in a salting stage to draw out its copious excess water.

Most instructions for how to cook spaghetti squash – such as the ones on the Waitrose website – tell you to cut it vertically, and do not include the salting stage. But trust me, the difference to the end product in both cutting horizontally, and salting in particular, will be massive.

Third, although there are many ways to cook spaghetti squash including microwaving, boiling and grilling – my recommendation is to opt for baking them, since that also helps to optimise the texture by evaporating any remaining excess water.

Once cooked and liberated from their skin, spaghetti squash eaten plain has a light, and very slightly nutty and sweet, vegetable taste. It feels soft in the mouth, and has the bite and yield of a soft vegetable.

You can get stuck-in to the spaghetti-like vegetable strands in any way that you would with regular pasta. So perhaps top them with a ragú bolognese as I did; or toss them in seasoned olive oil or pesto, topped with some parmesan shavings and basil; or stir through a creamy bacon carbonara sauce (but be careful with the saltiness of the last dish, as you have already added some salt to the squash during the water-extraction stage).

Use Spaghetti Squash exactly the same as you would pasta. Here I'm serving it with a rich homemade ragu bolognese & basil
Serve spaghetti squash as you would regular pasta – here I’ve topped it with a homemade ragú bolognese and basil

Alternatively, you could stop a step earlier, before removing the cooked squash strands from their shells, and instead use them as bowls for stuffing and returning to the oven for 15 minutes; or for serving straight from the oven, filled with meaty sauce. My personal preference is definitely to pull the strands out of their skin before serving at the table, as I think it’s less messy, but it’s up to you.

Leftover cooked spaghetti squash refrigerates and freezes very well and can be microwaved, or warmed up in a saucepan with a spot of water. So you could take it to work mixed with some sauce for your lunch, and either reheat it, or serve it cold.

Spaghetti Squash, ready to add a sauce


Nutrition count: Spaghetti vs. Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is enormously lower in carbs and calories than traditional pasta, coming in at around a 5th of each, and saving you a whopping 40g of carbs and 240 calories over pasta, for a 180g cooked serving.

Since it contains virtually no fat, then you can afford to serve it with a sauce that contains healthy fats, like those found in grass-fed butter or olive oil.

Per 100g (cooked weight) Waitrose Essential  Spaghetti** Spaghetti Squash**
Carbohydrate 59 10.8
Kcal 289 48.6
Protein 9 1.8
Fat 1.3 0.5
Fibre 2.5 1.8

* Figures for Napolina Spaghetti Bronze Die Pasta

** Figures here, and vitamin and minerals data below, are taken from the SelfNutritionData Database, based on USDA National Nutrient data 


Other Health Benefits

Wide range of Vitamins and Minerals

Spaghetti squash is especially high in vitamin C to promote healthy skin. It also contains most of the B vitamins, to promote a healthy nervous system and energy levels, and vitamin K for quick wound healing.

Spaghetti squash also contains significant levels of beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body, and can help promote healthy skin, eyes and immunity.

It contains many minerals, but it’s especially high in manganese which is essential in all sorts of bodily processes, including maintaining healthy tissue and bones; producing sex hormones; calcium absorption; blood sugar regulation; and functioning of the nervous system.

Gluten-free

If it’s important for you, then another benefit of spaghetti squash over wheat-pasta, of course, is that it’s gluten free. And it’s infinitely better to use spaghetti squash instead of gluten-free pastas, which typically include even higher-carb combinations of rice, potato and tapioca flours etc., in place of wheat. So they aren’t going to do your blood sugar any good, particularly if you’re trying to lose weight, or keep diabetes at bay.


Recipe: How to cook Spaghetti Squash

Serves 2-4

Prep: 10 mins
Salting time: 15 mins
Cooking: 30 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • Ground sea salt

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6/400°F
  • Cut the spaghetti squash widthways using a sharp, sturdy knife on a solid work surface. Then cut 1/2″ off each stem end of the two halves and sit them on those ends, inner cut surface upwards.

    Spaghetti squash is better cut widthways
    Cut widthways, you can see the vegetable ‘spaghetti’ strands running in concentric circles
  • Cut around the inside of each squash half with a sharp knife to loosen the seeds and surrounding stringy stuff, and scoop all this out with a metal spoon.Spaghetti Squash, cut widthways & deseeded
  • Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of ground sea salt over the cut surfaces and leave to sit for 15 minutes. As you can see below, really quite a lot of excess water will seep out of the squash during that time. Salting Spaghetti Squash draws out the excess water
  • After 15 minutes, pour away the water that has accumulated, and wipe dry the insides of each squash half with clean kitchen roll, removing any remaining salt as you go.
  • Place the squash halves, flesh side upwards, on a baking sheet, and roast in the centre of the oven for 30-50 minutes. Precise cooking time will depend on your oven and the size of the squash.
  • Remove from the oven and test that they’re done – the flesh should be lightly browned on top, and feel soft when a sharp knife is inserted. And you will really be able to see the strands of the spaghetti squash more prominently now.IMG_1307
  • Once the squash halves are cool enough to handle, hold each one in turn over a bowl and run a fork over the inner flesh to loosen the spaghetti-like threads.
  • Serve in any way that you would normal pasta.

Spaghetti Squash, ready to receive its sauce


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