Make Ahead

Spaghetti with Spaghetti Squash and Pancetta

November 17, 2017
5 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

Why substitute spaghetti squash for spaghetti when you can have it with spaghetti? As this dish shows, spaghetti squash can be much, much more than a stand-in for noodles. By roasting spaghetti squash first, then scooping out and sautéing its flesh until lightly caramelized, its flavor concentrates, and its spaghetti-like strands relax and dissolve into a light sauce with just enough texture to cling to pasta rather than weigh it down. Because the sauce is built in the pan, it’s simpler than butternut squash sauces that are pureed until smooth with a blender, and the spaghetti and sauce are more cohesive as a result. Spaghetti squash does best when paired with bold flavors, and this squashy spaghetti is full of them: pancetta, sage, golden onions, preserved lemon, and pecorino. The finished dish reads a lot like spaghetti carbonara on the surface, but with a taste that’s uniquely and deliciously its own.

Tip: Feel free to use other types of pasta (such as penne, shells, or linguine) instead of spaghetti. If you don’t have preserved lemon, add the zest of a large lemon when sautéing the onion and sage, and finish the dish with a few squeezes of lemon juice. —EmilyC

What You'll Need
  • 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
  1. Heat oven to 400° F. Optional step: microwave spaghetti squash for 4 to 5 minutes to make it easier to cut, and to speed up its roasting time.
  2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Sprinkle cut sides with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Roast, cut-side down, on a rimmed baking sheet until the interior is fork tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then scoop out the strands with a fork. Set aside 2 cups, saving any remaining squash for another use.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a small bowl; set aside. Leave 3 tablespoons of fat in pan, supplementing if needed with olive oil.
  5. Over medium heat, sauté onion, sage, red pepper flakes, and preserved lemon peel, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly golden and tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. While the onion mixture is sautéing, add the spaghetti to the boiling water. Cook according to package directions.
  7. When the onion is tender, add the spaghetti squash. Sauté a few minutes to lightly caramelize the squash, running the back of your spoon across the squash to increase the surface area that browns and to help the strands relax and dissolve. Ladle in 1 1/2 cups of the spaghetti’s cooking water and bring to a moderate simmer, stirring frequently, for another few minutes. Its strands won’t completely disappear but will form a light, cohesive sauce with the pasta water.
  8. Add the spaghetti to the skillet (reserving another cup of pasta water), and turn the heat to low. Toss together the spaghetti and the sauce until evenly coated, adding more pasta water, if needed. Add the pecorino and toss again until evenly integrated, then add the pancetta. Serve warm, with extra pecorino on the side, if desired.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Allison Klein
    Allison Klein
  • Twinsx2mom
  • healthierkitchen
  • EmilyC

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

11 Reviews

Rosalind P. October 13, 2020
I have a slightly different approach for spaghetti squash/spaghetti. I use it to "lighten" a spaghetti dish, i.e., toss the strands with actual spaghetti, in whatever sauce I'm using. If the sauce is really hot, the strands don't need to be cooked. Or you can toss the spaghetti with the strands after they're roasted. The point is they add volume to a real spaghetti dish, without the carb calories, but (to me, st least) I am experiencing pasta, not a substitute. Start out with 1/4 of spaghetti replaced with spaghetti squash, and work up from there. Stop before it doesn't feel like you're eating spaghetti any more. p.s I do the same with rice (white or brown) and cauliflower "rice". Enough to lighten it but it still feels like a rice dish. Don't mean to present this as some kind of genius idea. It's pretty obvious once you think about it.
Allison K. September 19, 2020
One of the best pasta dishes I've made in a long time!
EmilyC September 22, 2020
Happy to hear this, thanks Allison!
Tasha December 5, 2017
any suggestions on a replacement for the pasta water? would like to make this as a side rather than a pasta dish. Just concerned that plain water/stock won't be a great substitute as the liquid won't be 'starchy' enough.
EmilyC December 5, 2017
Hi Tasha -- To clarify, do you want to serve the spaghetti squash in strands (flavored with the pancetta, preserved lemon, etc.) or as a sauce for something besides pasta? If you want to serve as strands, I'd saute the pancetta, etc. as the recipe instructs, and then toss in the strands at the end, off the heat. If you want to turn the spaghetti squash into a sauce (as it is here), I think chicken or vegetable stock should work nicely. Hope this helps!
Twinsx2mom December 4, 2017
Can anyone send the link for Sarah Jampel's vegetarian carbonara. I can't find it on food 52. Many thanks!
EmilyC December 4, 2017
Here it is!
Twinsx2mom December 3, 2017
This looks amazing! Any vegetarian substitute for the pancetta?
EmilyC December 3, 2017
Thank you! I'm thinking that the dish will be good even without the pancetta, no substitution needed, because of the boldness of the other flavors. I'd use 3 to 4 T of olive oil when sautéing the onions, and then add more, to taste, if the dish needs a little more richness. You might also want to check out Sarah Jampel's vegetarian carbonara on this site; she uses black trumpet mushrooms and some other tricks to approximate the smoky richness of carbonara. Hope this helps!
healthierkitchen December 1, 2017
Terrific flavors! I had my mind blown recently, can't remember where I read this, but cutting the squash around the equator before roasting, rather than lengthwise, makes longer strands (which you might or might not want here, but wow!). The strands are wound around the inside of the squash widthwise!
EmilyC December 2, 2017
Thanks Wendy! Oh wow, that is a cool tip!! Long vs. short strands wouldn’t matter for this pasta but I’m remembering this tip for other preparations!!