Spaghetti Squash Goes Boldly, Brightly, Coolly Where It's Never Gone Before

September 21, 2016

On August 15th, I received my CSA’s e-newsletter, which noted a spaghetti squash would be arriving in the following day’s share. Spaghetti squash, I learned, ripen before other winter squash, but a mildew problem meant this year’s crop needed to be harvested immediately. The note assured me I could keep the squash for weeks in my cool kitchen. And so I did. But in the weeks that followed, more spaghetti squash arrived, and before I knew it—long before I cared to be leaping headlong into winter squash season—I had a nice collection of spaghetti squash on my countertop. It was time to turn on the oven.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

I scoured my favorite vegetable-focused cookbooks and online sources for inspiration, which quickly led me to discover two things: 1. Recipes designed specifically for spaghetti squash are few and far between, and 2. the ones that exist call for bold—often rich, sometimes bright—flavors.

I started with a roasted spaghetti squash gratin layered with mushrooms sautéed in butter and then simmered in cream, finished with a blanket of Parmesan cheese. This, while delicious, felt better suited for Thanksgiving than post-Labor Day. Before moving onto a recipe calling for a heap of Gruyère cheese and a garlic-and-parsley compound butter, I poked a little deeper into Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

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There, I found a sidebar titled "Sauces and Seasonings for Winter Squash" with a list of inspiring dressings—chermoula, harissa, salsa verde, and gremolata—whose bold, fresh flavors reminded me of a Tamar Adler recipe for roasted sweet potatoes dressed with chiles and shallots macerated in lime juice and showered with tons of fresh herbs.

I gave my spaghetti squash a similar treatment, and this preparation felt right—slightly spicy, assertive yet light, appropriate fare for the Indian summer I’ve been relishing. I served the squash at room temperature, but found it particularly refreshing cold: When the squash strands firm up in the fridge, the dish transforms, tasting almost like a raw vegetable slaw. Sweeter varieties of winter squash (like delicata, butternut, and kabocha) need little more than salt, pepper, and a pat of butter. Not so for spaghetti squash, which can taste a little bland. But its sturdy texture is so nice—spiralized by nature!—and as lovely a vehicle for a warm, spicy tomato sauce as this cool, sharp dressing.

A few tips on cooking spaghetti squash:

If you have the time, I think it’s easiest to cook spaghetti squash whole. Simply puncture it a few times with a knife, place it in a buttered baking dish, and roast it at 375° F for about an hour (for a 3-pound squash, or longer if larger), until it's lightly browned in spots and easy to pierce with a knife.

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Top Comment:
“I'm opting for spaghetti squash as a lighter/healthier alternative to pasta, so I don't want to negate the "healthy" by adding so much butter/cream/cheese that I don't feel like moving afterward. ”
— ezachos

If you are pressed for time, you can halve the squash before cooking it, scoop out the seeds, and roast it face down in a greased baking dish for 30 to 40 minutes. If you have a microwave or a pressure cooker, you can cut the time down even further. For a pressure cooker, cut the squash into big chunks—no need to remove skins or seeds first—place them in the pressure cooker, add water, and cook on high for 15 minutes. For a microwave, cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, place face down in a buttered microwavable dish, add water to cover the bottom of the dish in a thin layer, and microwave on high until soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

Left, spaghetti squash with Parmesan and parsley, and right, the chile-lime squash reinvented as fritters. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

More ideas for spaghetti squash:

Inspired by Deborah Madison's gremolata idea, I made a lemon-parsley version: Toss the roasted shredded spaghetti squash with 2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil, a heaping half cup of grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly cracked pepper to taste, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley. Toss, taste, and adjust with more salt, pepper, and lemon to taste. A minced garlic clove would be a nice addition here.

And turn leftovers into squash patties: Simply combine leftover squash (about 2 cups) with cooked rice, quinoa, or other cooked grain (about 1 cup). Add one egg and some flour (start with 1/3 cup) and mix to combine. Form into patties—it’s okay if the mixture feels wet. Heat grapeseed or canola or another neutral oil in a skillet over medium heat. Make a test fritter by frying up a small patty, cooking it for 2 to 3 minutes a side. Taste. Adjust seasoning with more salt or more flour if the patty isn’t sticking together. Once your test fritter passes muster, fry up each patty for about 5 minutes per side or until evenly golden.

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

How do you make spaghetti squash its best self? Tell us in the comments.

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


ezachos October 5, 2016
Love this, love all the ideas (article + comments), and LOVE the attitude. I'm opting for spaghetti squash as a lighter/healthier alternative to pasta, so I don't want to negate the "healthy" by adding so much butter/cream/cheese that I don't feel like moving afterward.
Alexandra S. October 5, 2016
Yes, totally, I know exactly what you're saying. Let me know if you make any spaghetti squash discoveries!
Fresh T. September 26, 2016
Ali! What would I do without your inspiration!? This sounds fantastic and I will definitely be trying it.
Alexandra S. September 29, 2016
Thank you, Dana! Are you getting spaghetti squash in Hawaii?
Noreen F. September 22, 2016
I was never a fan of spaghetti squash until last fall when I tried tossing it with lemon juice, herbs and a little salt. I might have picked up the tip from Deborah Madison, too, but I don't remember for sure.
Alexandra S. September 22, 2016
What would we do without DM?! This sounds simple and good!
Jr0717 September 21, 2016
I like to roast it, shred it, and marinate it at least overnight with a favorite dressing or a bunch of herbs - whatever's on hand. I'll do this as part of Sunday meal prep for the week, because its great to throw a handful into lettuce wraps with plenty of avocado and, for contrast, crunchy-though still lettuce wrap friendly-veggies, like julienned bell peppers, carrots, etc. Toss in some black beans or chickpeas for protein - lunch is served!
Alexandra S. September 21, 2016
This is so appealing to me! Yum. I was surprised by how much I loved the squash straight from the fridge — so refreshing! Love the idea of your wraps.
Jr0717 September 21, 2016
It makes quick lunches - especially if its one of those mornings! - SO much easier to throw together. And if I do say so myself, its a #notsaddesklunch!

Let me know if you try it - what dressings or herbs and spices you use!
Alexandra S. September 21, 2016
I will! I have to say, I am really excited about this "cold" preparation — I found myself returning again and again to the quart storage container holding this "salad". It was so good. I'm thinking for the next one, I'll toss it in a shallot vinaigrette with a ton of herbs, then throw that in wrap, as you suggest, with whatever I have on hand — fun!
Jr0717 September 21, 2016
I'm glad I could give you another option for enjoying spaghetti squash!
Alexandra S. September 21, 2016
Much appreciated! I see a lot more in my future :)
Lazyretirementgirl September 22, 2016
I never would have thought of this. Thanks!
Lazyretirementgirl September 21, 2016
I use it in fake Mac and cheese -- in lieu of macaroni, and also mixed with bolognese, topped with parm and breadcrumbs and baked for half and hour. I bake the squash and freeze it in one cup portions, which in either application, feeds two of us. A pantry godsend, especially if you have portioned Frozen bolognese.
Alexandra S. September 21, 2016
Yum! I wish I were better at freezing things in portions — you're inspiring me. Would love to make this bolognese gratin this winter — sounds so good!
Lazyretirementgirl September 22, 2016
Plus, it is a godsend to thaw a couple of bags of ready to go prepped food, put them together and you're 90% of the way to dinner.
Alexandra S. September 22, 2016
Jr0717 September 26, 2016
I usually do spaghetti squash 'pasta' with a roasted red pepper sauce, or oven roasted cherry tomatoes that I toss in right when they are ready to burst, and I've made an avocado-basil cream sauce before, too. Any suggestions for new and unique sauces to try? I'm going to save the bolognese idea, for sure!
Alexandra S. September 29, 2016
All of these sauces sound so good! I wonder if a lemony-carbonara sauce with bacon and parsley might be good? I'll keep thinking, too.