Chow Town

With squash overflowing in gardens, don’t overlook spaghetti squash

It is that time of year that squash is overflowing in gardens.

We grew up on zucchini and crookneck. But I never heard of the spaghetti squash.

When my girlfriend several years ago asked me if I wanted a spaghetti squash she had grown in her garden for me to use in place of spaghetti, I asked, “Are you crazy?”

“First I don’t know what it is and then I don’t know how to cook it and then why would I want to ruin a perfectly good sauce on a squash.”

Well, I did feel a little foolish after I tried it. What a wonderful surprise. Not only have I used it as spaghetti but in various other dishes.

Here’s a little info about this wonderful vegetable that everyone should start eating. The spaghetti squash —

Cucurbita pepo

that is also called vegetable spaghetti, noodle squash, spaghetti marrow, and squaghetti — is an oblong seed-bearing variety of winter squash.

The fruit can range either from ivory to yellow or orange in color. The orange varieties have a higher carotene content. Its center contains many large seeds.

Its flesh is bright yellow or orange. When raw, the flesh is solid and similar to other raw squash; when cooked, the flesh falls away from the fruit in ribbons or strands like spaghetti.

Spaghetti squash can be baked, boiled, steamed, and/or microwaved. It can be served with or without sauce, as a substitute for pasta. The seeds can be roasted, similar to pumpkin seeds.

Spaghetti squash contains many nutrients, including folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta carotene.

It is low in calories, averaging 42 calories per 1-cup —155 grams — serving.

Spaghetti squash is relatively easy to grow, thriving in gardens or in containers.The plants are monoecious, with male and female flowers on the same plant. Male flowers have long, thin stems that extend upwards from the vine. Female flowers are shorter, with a small round growth underneath the petals. This round growth turns into the squash if the flower is successfully pollinated. Spaghetti squash plants may cross-pollinate with zucchini plants.

So how do I buy, store, and prepare spaghetti squash? Look for spaghetti squash with a firm, dry rind free of soft spots and cracks. Squash should be heavy for its size with a firm, dry, rounded stem, which helps keep out bacteria.

Avoid spaghetti squash that has cracks and soft spots or is without a stem. Also avoid spaghetti squash with a shiny rind, as it may have been picked too soon or have a wax coating.

Store squash in a cool, dry place — preferably 55 to 60 degrees — up to 3 months. Refrigeration will make the squash spoil quickly, but squash can be stored in the refrigerator 1-2 weeks.

Cut squash should be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated.

To prepare spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon. Bake or boil it until tender, or wrap it in plastic wrap and microwave on high for 10 to 12 minutes. Once squash is cooked, use a fork to rake out the stringy flesh all the way to the rind and serve.

My favorite recipe for this vegetable is to toss it with fresh tomatoes chopped in small pieces then stir in homemade fresh basil pesto with fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top.

With a crisp white wine to go with it, you couldn’t ask for anything better.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.