Spaghetti Squash: Not Noodle, Still Delicious

February 25, 2016

It seems as if everywhere I turn, there’s a new recipe for spaghetti squash pasta or bowls or bakes.

And I want to be on board, I really do. But can I admit something?

Spaghetti squash is not my favorite squash. So far as I can tell, it isn’t as sweet, as satisfying, or as hearty as, say, kabocha or red kuri or butternut. Also, it tends to pop up frequently alongside the words “low carb,” and, sadly, this carb-lover has deemed it guilty by association.

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Lest you think I harbor a bias against vegetable “noodles,” I swear I don’t. I love spiralized zucchini and carrot and sweet potato as much as the next person, and maybe even more (though I don’t really see them as a “substitute” for pasta—more like a “delightful reimagining” of pasta).

But spaghetti squash doesn’t taste anything like noodles: It tastes like mush. Healthy, slightly sweet mush, to be sure, but mush all the same. And when you top it with pasta sauce, it becomes all the mushier. I have no problem with mush—a lot of my culinary best friends are mushy (hummus, guacamole, mashed potatoes, I’m looking at you).

It’s a question of context: When I hear about a meal that’s supposed to evoke the experience of eating pasta, a bowl of mush is not what I’m expecting.

When my editor at Food52 and I discussed the idea of spaghetti squash, her question was “Is it possible to make spaghetti squash taste good?” I responded that I honestly wasn’t sure, but that I was up for the challenge. I had two goals:

  1. Offset the mushy texture of spaghetti squash by creating a hearty and textured sauce (rather than a marinara or a vegan cream sauce)
  2. Add flavor to the squash by packing plenty of tomato, garlic, and heat into the sauce

As it turned out, I love the resulting dish. In truth, I love it mostly for the very easy white bean “ragoût,” which can also be served on traditional pasta, on top of quinoa or another cooked grain, or even over toast. But for the first time, really, I found myself savoring the spaghetti squash, too. Maybe a little texture was all it took, or maybe—having dropped my own limited ideas about how spaghetti squash is supposed to be cooked—I gave myself a chance to enjoy it.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

I doubt that spaghetti squash will become a go-to for me, or that I’ll ever choose to serve it without a super flavorful sauce. But for now, I have proof that it can taste good—really good, in fact—and that’s enough of a reason to keep trying it.

What's your favorite way to prepare spaghetti squash? Tell us in the comments below!

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Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.


celiaruthless February 29, 2016
I eat spaghetti squash for lunch many days - and have embraced it by acknowledging that it really is not pasta. Current fave: roast a squash, scoop it out; sautee peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and ground turkey, season with harissa and cumin, and toss in cooked squash and kale. I love putting a few pinenuts and a dollop of labneh on after reheating it at work.
Betty C. February 29, 2016
Try cooking the spaghetti squash low and slow either on the BBQ grate or in the oven. Cut a plug out, then loosely reinsert. Don't deseed first. Was great on a 225 deg grill, maybe slightly charred on bottom, about 2 hours. Don't turn. Cut in half lengthwise and deseed. Seeds and strings come right out without any hassle.
Agree with other posts, it should definitely NOT be mushy. Either too old or cooked too long! Comes out about ala dente texture.
robin.asbell February 28, 2016
You can't test it by piercing the skin, like butternut or other winter squashes. You have to turn it over and see if the strands separate. Then it has some tooth to it. But yes, it is its own thing, not spaghetti.
monica February 28, 2016
I don't think I've ever cooked spaghetti squash to the point of mushiness, but I've steamed it in one way or another. I agree that it's no substitute for pasta but rather is a side dish or a snack on its own when topped simply with some good butter and shavings from a wedge of good Romano or parmesan and a pinch of salt and pepper, which my four boys LOVE. This caper and olive sauce sounds great, without the sugar for me as I prefer the tang and tart over the sweet.
Linda February 28, 2016
The idea that spaghetti squash is a substitute for pasta or cauliflower puree is "faux mashed potatoes" or grated cauliflower is "rice" doesn't work for me because when you name a dish "faux mashed potatoes" I expect it to taste something like potatoes. Other people have told me the same thing. So those dishes disappoint because they don't meet our expectations. But when you call it "cauliflower puree", we expect it to taste like cauliflower. Our expectations are met and we judge the dish for what it is. Spaghetti squash called a pasta is pretty much the same thing.

But there's another way to look at the idea of using vegetables instead of starches in recipes. Pretty much every diet plan that's considered to be healthy has "eat more vegetables" as one of its recommendations. Using spaghetti squash with pasta toppings or making fried rice with grated cauliflower or loading celery root mash with baked potato toppings are tasty ways to eat more vegetables. That's pretty much a win for everyone.
Tammy February 28, 2016
I never thought spaghetti squash should be a substitute for pasta, so I guess I was able to appreciate it for what it is. I LOVE the texture and taste of it. You don't have to cook it until it's mush. IMO, it should be slightly al dente. Try dressing it simply with a little butter and olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and some toasted pine nuts. If you must, add a few shaves of Parmesan as a garnish. Everyone know here in Dallas is crazy about spaghetti squash!
robin.asbell February 28, 2016
I wrote a post on this a while back- it's not the squashes fault that we pretend it is spaghetti! I also think we overbake it most of the time, and make it mushy. If you follow my tips it will still have some texture left after the oven.
Kimberly N. February 25, 2016
I feel the exact same way. I want to play along and consider spaghetti squash a substitute for pasta, but no. I can't make it work. I have all of these ingredients in my kitchen so I will try this recipe today!