Friday, November 2, 2007

Spaghetti squash takes over the world! Or at least, my kitchen. The past few months have seen my discovery of and subsequent addiction to the wonderful world of the squash.

The most recent newcomer to my squash fetish is the spaghetti squash. Delightfully yellow, pleasantly oval, it is healthy and amazingly delicious without the addition of any spices, sauces, or other flavors. When I hacked my first spaghetti squash in half the other evening in preparation for dinner, I simply baked the halves in the oven for about forty minutes face-down in a shallow pan of water. When they emerged, steam billowing to fog my glasses and sear my forehead (well, just a teeny bit of searing, really), I removed the halves to let them cool. Once I could handle them, I began to scrape a fork through the tender flesh, pulling it out in the squash's trademark noodle-like strands. Curious and unable to resist, I put a forkful in my mouth. Then another. And then -- well, you get the idea. Soon, it felt as if I'd eaten just as much of the squash as I had included in the lasagna.

Which brings me to the part of the meal that required actual cooking, not just haphazard sawing. Having seen quite a few recipes in which the brave spaghetti squash is a healthful replacement for those pesky, carb-laden pastas, I couldn't resist making a discounted squash I found at the grocery store my own. Sifting through the recipes I had discovered, I decided on baked lasagna. I thought this meal was all-around fantastic. It is healthy, fairly easy, and extremely delicious. Even my husband, who on the best of days really dislikes squash, said it wasn't all that bad.

My one criticism is that the meal is time consuming -- I had to bake the squash for at least forty minutes until the flesh was usable. You can hasten this part of the process by stabbing the squash like a fork-wielding serial killer and then microwaving it for about 15 minutes. That way it will be easier to cut in half, and it will bake in the oven faster. But if you don't mind the wait, this meal is very much worth it.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1/2 (15 ounce) can black olives, sliced (I rinsed my olives to remove excess salt)
tomato sauce of your choice (I used Ragu's organic varieties)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (use more if your heart desires it! I used part skim and fat-free versions, which baked and tasted great, and you can easily substitute vegan alternatives)
1/4 cup ricotta cheese (optional -- I only added some for my husband's portion to make it a bit heartier for him, and again I used part skim)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. You will want to play with the temperatures here. If the squash is taking forever to bake, try turning up the heat, or turning it down if the lasagna crisps too quickly on top.

Place the squash halves face-down on a cookie sheet or shallow pan in a thin layer of water. Bake for 30-40 minutes (again, be flexible with the time, and also remember the option to microwave the squash before halving it -- just make sure to stab it a few times with a fork to prevent a huge, squash-y mess from coming to live in your plucky microwave!). When you can easily insert a knife into the squash, remove from the oven and allow to cool (approximately 15 minutes). When you are able to handle the squash, run a fork through its flesh, removing the squash strands. It should peel right up in lovely threads. If you're having a hard time, throw it back in the oven and let it bake more.

Once you have harvested all the squash, it's time to assemble your lasagna! You need a casserole baking dish or metal baking pan of some kind. I used a small bread pan. What you bake the lasagna in is up to you -- would you rather have it deep or shallow? Let your preferences inform your choice. My lasagna was fairly deep -- the layer of squash reoccurred three times.

Layer the dish/pan with alternating strata of spaghetti squash, sauce, olives, and mozzarella (and ricotta if you use it). Once you have used up all of your ingredients and/or are satisfied with the depth of your creation(I ended up with quite a bit of leftover squash as I was only cooking for two), sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese and bake that bad boy for 20-25 minutes. If the center is baked but the top layer of Parmesan is not melting, you may want to switch your oven to broil for a few minutes to get it nice and crispy. Remove, serve, and love!

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