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

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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.

Photos 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.

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.

Spaghetti Squash with Chiles, Lime, and Cilantro
Spaghetti Squash with Chiles, Lime, and Cilantro

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.

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. Photos 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.

Spaghetti Squash with Chiles, Lime, and Cilantro

Spaghetti Squash with Chiles, Lime, and Cilantro

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Serves 4
  • 3 pounds spaghetti squash (about 1 squash)
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 hot chile, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, plus more to taste
Go to Recipe

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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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Fall, Roast, Vegetarian