I have not always been a fan of winter squash. Although I’ve always loved summer squash–zucchini, in particular–the winter varieties remind me of eating squash when I was a kid, or as we called it, “squish.” And the problem was, the only variety of squish that we ate when I was a kid was acorn squish. My mother would bake it in the oven, scoop it out of its shell and serve it plain, with just a little butter, salt and pepper. Needless to say this is not a particularly flavorful way to eat squish nor was it really a way to get kids to like it. But I can’t blame my mom for making it as simply as possible–she was diabetic and trying to keep it healthy. Unfortunately, preparing it that way kept it bland as well.
As an adult I’ve learned that squish can be really good in all its different varieties. Who doesn’t like butternut? It’s sweet and versatile. I have since also come to appreciate acorn, but it needs to be made in a way that helps bring its natural wonderfulness out of its shell, so to speak. It is one pig that’s definitely in need of lipstick to make it shine, IMHO. I discovered delicata about six or seven years ago when the mother of one of my students at an after school program I was working at in Brookline suggested I tried it. I was on board immediately.
And then there’s spaghetti squish. Spaghetti squish is particularly intriguing because its meaty insides resemble, well, spaghetti. Which is pretty darned cool. How smart of Mother Nature to create a vegetable that resembles PASTA! (Without getting sidetracked at this point about the inevitable chicken vs. egg arguments, let’s just go with that assumption because it’s fun, not because it’s correct. Yes, I’m talking to you fact sticklers out there…) It’s a perfect substitute for pasta when you want to get your veggies on or if you’re one of those nutty low/no carb people, which is something that I can only get behind every so often.
So when I spied some spaghetti squish at the Temescal Farmer’s Market last week, I decided it was time for a low-carb week of meals (see, I can do it sometimes, Eric!). It had been a year or two since I’d last made spaghetti squish, so it was high time.
The problem with spaghetti squish, as with any winter squish, is that they are so freakin’ difficult to cut. In all honesty, this is probably the one characteristic of winter squish that I find the most off-putting (aside from when it’s poorly prepared and bland) and what prevents me from preparing them more often. They tend to be large, unwieldy and hard on your knives not to mention your deltoids. Thanks to 13 weeks at KoF I’m keeping my Wusthofs far sharper these days, but a squish can give even the sharpest of knives a work out that will leave them sore for the next two days. Plus, squish are usually oddly shaped, so dealing with cutting them is doubly awkward. Big round objects like squish and watermelon sort of put a fear of a trip to the emergency room in me. Long knife, unyielding flesh, rolling object–you get what I mean…
Without investing in an ax or a clever (which seems like sort of unnecessary cooking utensil, even for a utensil-lover like myself, unless you’re a Chinese chef who regularly chops through whole chickens and ducks), what’s a girl to do to get that stringy, noodle-like flesh out of her spaghetti squish easily?
Turning to the font of all wisdom, the Internet, I was able to find a smart way to cook spaghetti squish without cutting the squash first. (Thank you, About.com). Turns out that you can bake spaghetti squish whole in the oven, just like a baked potato. As with the humble spud, you must first poke the thing vigorously all over first lest you set yourself up for a disastrous explosion in your oven. You can actually also do this in the microwave, but I fear a microwave explosion even more than an oven explosion, so I opted for the oven.
After poking my squish copiously with a fork, I decided that just might not be enough poking penetration to let enough steam out of the squish, so I decided to give it another round of copious pokes with a paring knife. This act reminded me exactly why I wasn’t trying to cut the damned thing in two. The paring knife kept getting stuck in the flesh, requiring me to keep a tight hold on the squish ball so that I cut get the knife out of if after most pokes. It had more freckles than an Irish schoolgirl after I was done with it.
Preheat the oven to 375 and bake whole for approximately 1 hour, at which time, the flesh will have softened, inside and out, and it should give quite a bit if you give it a squeeze. Now you can slice, dice, what have you, with the greatest of ease!
Spaghetti squish does have seeds, so those need to be scraped out of the middle. Then take a fork to scrape out the strands of flesh. Voila! Faux ‘sketti!
This particular time I decided to have it with some meat sauce, lest I get hungry about an hour after eating since I’d essentially just be eating veggies if I served it just with tomato sauce. I had some leftover tomato sauce in the freezer I’d made a couple months ago to go with some yuba and eggplant parm I’d made, so I thawed that out. I picked up some loose Italian chicken sausage at Whole Foods, browned it along with some sautéed zucchini (because one squish deserves another) and tossed them with the sauce. Pour over faux ‘sketti, top
with favorite cheesy topping, if so desired, and serve.