Of all the winter squash, perhaps spaghetti squash has the most undeserving reputation for being boring. There’s lots of competition—butternut, acorn, kabocha and delicata—all adorning the farm stands this time of year. Spaghetti squash may not seem special at first, and it may not be obvious how much potential there is beneath its less-than-gorgeous pale skin, but I decided to explore its possibilities. You should too.
My path from the farmers market to this recipe wasn’t a straight line. Because I hadn’t cooked with spaghetti squash for a long time, I scoured food sites and cookbooks for inspiration. Many recipes and ideas go beyond topping its spaghetti-like strands with marinara sauce, such as this tangle of roasted, boldly-spiced strands, various stuffed versions, and creamy casseroles and gratins.
But though supporting casts may vary, spaghetti squash plays common, often predictable roles in most recipes: a low-carb stand-in for pasta, noodles, rice, and potatoes.
Noticeably absent from my searches were recipes that combine pasta and spaghetti squash, which surprised me: spaghetti with spaghetti squash just seems so obvious, even if a little cheeky. Pasta recipes with butternut squash abound—whether the butternut is pureed into a smooth sauce or left in bite-sized cubes—so why not pair spaghetti with spaghetti squash?
With a fall-ish spaghetti dish in mind, I paired roasted spaghetti squash with the bold flavors of pancetta, golden onions, preserved lemon, sage, and pecorino. (Crispy, fatty pork and preserved lemon are a favorite flavor duo of mine.) I tossed the roasted squash strands with the spaghetti as a final step, envisioning they’d cozy up together for some noodle-on-noodle action, kind of like in this summer squash pasta. The roasted strands...immediately disintegrated and turned to mush.
So when making the dish again, I treated the spaghetti squash with more care. I sautéed the roasted strands (along with the onions, preserved lemon, and sage) until lightly caramelized to coax out more flavor, then ladled in the pasta’s starchy cooking water to help the strands relax and soften. Once tossed with the spaghetti, a mound of grated pecorino, and a little more cooking water, the squash strands transformed into a light, salty-sweet sauce with enough texture to cling to the noodles, but not to weigh them down. And unlike sauces made from butternut squash, this one required no trip to the blender, resulting in a more cohesive pasta and sauce. The finished dish was just right: cozy and comforting, with spaghetti squash’s mild sweetness acting as the perfect foil to the crispy, salty bites of pancetta and puckery preserved lemon. I was surprised by how much the squashy spaghetti looked like spaghetti carbonara when piled high in my bowl, yet with a taste and texture uniquely and deliciously its own.
Spaghetti squash proved to me it can be so much more than faux spaghetti or low-carb standby. It can take on versatile new roles if just given the chance, and maybe even one-up butternut and its other winter peers in the process.
- 1 spaghetti squash, about 2 pounds
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 4 ounces thick-cut pancetta or bacon, cut into cubes
- 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons diced preserved lemon peel (from about 1/2 a large preserved lemon)
- 1 cup finely grated pecorino romano (parmesan can be substituted), plus more for serving
What are your thoughts on spaghetti squash? Let us know in the comments!