Sunday 16 November 2014
Stuffed Spaghetti Squash au Gratin
Cheese is so great and we haven't had a good cheesy recipe on the blog for some time. Although this post does deliver in the cheese department, the star of the dish is spaghetti squash. If you've never tried it, well, you simply must. Spaghetti squash is very similar in flavour and smell to pumpkin but the flesh separates into strands similar spaghetti noodles (hence, as you might have guessed, the name). Spaghetti squash is a delicious, comforting ingredient that's in season right now and there are a lot of different ways you can prepare it. This is one of my favourites. Sausage, ground beef or turkey would be great in this recipe but this is a vegetarian version. The stuffing for the squash is a chunky combination of tomatoes, cremini mushrooms, onion, garlic and dried herbs (molto italiano).
Stuffed spaghetti squash is pretty self explanatory but what does "au gratin" mean? When a dish is "au gratin" or "gratiné" it means it is topped with a browned crust. This is usually made by way of cheese and/or breadcrumbs. We're using both in this technique.
If you can't find spaghetti squash this will certainly work with any other type of squash, you just won't get that spaghetti-noodle-like consistency that makes this ingredient so unique. I like to offer as many versatile recipes as I can so you can be inspired but really but your own vision into these dishes. If you follow this basic technique you can do just about anything you want, especially with the stuffing. I made this dish at an abode other than my own where fresh Parmigiano Reggiano was not available. Some extra fresh grated Parm on the topping would be beautiful. Trust your creativity and have fun with this one.
2 spaghetti squashes, halved and seeded
1 white onion, diced
1 pint of cremini mushrooms (or any other mushroom you prefer), sliced
1 796 ml/28 oz can of diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (optional or to taste)
1 cup (or so) mozzarella, grated
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
To properly halve and seed the spaghetti squash, slice off the tip of one of the ends so that it can stand up straight on a cutting board.
Stand the spaghetti squash upright and slice it down the middle to create two equal halves.
Scoop out the seeds and membrane from the cavity, while leaving a perimeter on the outside.
Lightly grease a baking tray with olive oil and place the halves inside, cavity side up. Lightly brush the squashes with olive oil and then season generously with salt and pepper.
Preheat your oven to 375 F/190 C and place the prepared spaghetti squash on the middle rack. Roast for about 45 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. During this process the starch in the squash with convert to sugar and eventually caramelize a bit. Focus on that as your goal rather than the specific cooking time. While the squash is cooking, get on with the stuffing.
Let's interrupt this recipe for a little run down. You have two options in the upcoming step. You could start by sautéeing your mushrooms or your onions first. It depends which you want to be the base flavour in your stuffing. Onions and mushrooms both take on magnificent flavours when they are cooked down. If decide on onions, your stuffing will have a slightly sweeter flavour and the mushrooms will be a little less toothsome. If you decide on mushrooms, the stuffing will have a slightly more meaty, nutty flavour and the mushrooms will give texture to the stuffing. There is no wrong answer to your decision. Personally, I prefer the mushroom route. If you're on team onion, simply interchange onion and mushrooms in the following instructions.
Heat a pan over medium-high and add 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the mushrooms (you should hear a sizzling sound right away) and season with salt and pepper. Mushrooms are like sponges and absorb any kind of moisture as they cook. Avoid adding any extra olive oil while sautéeing. The pan may seem dry but this will let the mushrooms sort of toast and create a phenomenal flavour base. The salt added will also help to extract a bit of liquid out of the mushrooms as well.
Once the mushrooms have taken on some colour and shrunken, add the onions. Add a pinch more salt at this stage.
When the onions have softened, add the minced garlic and sautée for a couple of minutes. Add the Italian seasoning and dried chili flakes at this stage as well.
Dump the contents of the diced tomato can to the pan, liquid and all. Tinned tomatoes do have a tendency to be a little extra acidic so some people like to add a pinch of sugar at this stage. The particular brand of tomatoes I used already had a bit of sugar added. You may choose to omit that step altogether.
Crank the heat to high to get some boiling action before reducing the heat to a low simmer. Let this simmer, while stirring from time to time, until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. This will take around the same time as it will for the squash to finish cooking, At this point you have a very chunky pasta sauce. We don't want to stuff our squash with sauce. We want to stuff our squash with stuffing! Don't rush it, but allow the stuffing to reduce until you have a dry, thick mess of deliciousness. You will get to this stage when you drag a wooden spoon through the stuffing and the canal stays in tact and liquid does not rush in to fill it. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Remove the squash from the oven once they are done. Some liquid may have accumulated in the cavity. Spoon that out and discard.
Place an oven rack on the highest level and turn on your broiler.
Stuff the cavities with the tomato/mushroom mixture. There should be enough to evenly fill all four halves. Gently flatten the mixture into the squash.
Top each squash halve with an equal amount of grated mozzarella. Top once again with 1/2 a tbsp of breadcrumbs for each halve. You may have some excess cheese. If you do, snack on it during the next step.
Place the squash back in the oven under the broiler. Allow 7-8 minutes to create a beautiful gratin. Again, go by sight rather than precise cooking time. You want the breadcrumbs to toast and the cheese to crisp into a golden brown (or, of course, to your liking).
Allow the squash to cool for a few minutes as they will be piping hot at this stage. As soon as they're cool enough to eat, dig in!
It's up to you if you want to make this a side dish or the main contender in a meal. It has an exciting variety of textures and flavours that will leave you oh so satisfied either way. Spaghetti squash is a healthy ingredient that gives you the illusion of eating a hearty serving of carbolicious pasta, except it's just vegetable (or gourd, if you want to be precise). Everything is edible, except for the skin of the squash, so scoop to your heart's content.
I thoroughly enjoyed this as much as I hope you do, should you decide to give this a try. Aside from some cheese and a tiny bit of bread, this is an exceptionally healthy dish. Not only healthy but satisfying and hearty, I tend to think of my style of cooking as more or less rustic and this is a perfect example of that. What are you waiting for? No seriously. What? lol.
As always, I hope that I was able to be a source of inspiration, if not a good read. Stay tuned for more, as always. I'd love to hear your feedback, questions, or anything engaging that you might have in mind. Lay it on me.
Until next time we meet again,