Nature’s Pasta: Spaghetti Squash 101

I’ll be the first to admit I was a little skeptical of this imposter-like vegetable. Quit trying to be something you’re not, spaghetti squash. You’re not pasta and I will not be tricked into thinking so.

That’s how I felt anyway, but as of late you could say I’m pretty obsessed with this piece of produce. I cut it some slack and gave it a shot, and now I’m a big fan. I’ll get into a few ways to enjoy it, but first I want to explain why it rocks. And if you’re anything like me and may have been too intimidated to buy it because you don’t know how to cook the darn thing — well, I’ll cover that too.

First, it’s a nutrient powerhouse! Those little strands are packed with fiber, vitamins C, A, K, B-6, thiamin, niacin, folate and riboflavin and the minerals manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. Friendly reminder/disclaimer: some of these are found in smaller amounts than others, but beneficial nonetheless.

Secondly, spaghetti squash is a big bang for your buck kind of ingredient. You can eat a lot of it without consuming a copious amount of calories. I like to think of it as a macro-counter’s secret weapon. At approximately 42 calories/10g carbs and little to no fat or protein per one cup serving, it makes a great substitution for traditional pasta. It’s also naturally gluten-free and Paleo-friendly.

As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s not a pasta and this is true. However, it’s an extremely versatile vegetable and can add tons of volume to your meals (volume meaning eating lots of food for not all the gross fullness feeling). It helps you stay on track with your healthy eating regimen and doesn’t make you feel sluggish like a big bowl of pasta would. I don’t consider it a substitution for spaghetti, rather a completely alternative ingredient that can be used how pasta can.

Lastly, there’s dozens of ways you can serve it, which keeps the creative juices flowing in the kitchen and the feeling of variety in your diet (read more about how variety leads to success in another one of my posts here).

Here’s how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cut the squash in half lengthwise. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to remove the seeds in the middle, then drizzle olive oil and dash some salt and pepper, and any other handy cabinet spices you enjoy, all over. Next, turn the two halves facedown on a foil-covered sheet (yay for easy cleanup!) and bake for 25-35 minutes or so, until you’re happy with the texture (test this by scraping the inside with a fork). Lastly, let cool and scoop out the squash with a fork to get the spaghetti-like pieces.

My Tips:

  • I usually do this while I’m doing something else (like making a different meal, cleaning, studying, etc.) because most of it is baking time and doesn’t require hands-on work.

  • Cook 2-3 squashes at a time so you can enjoy it for a few days following without having to get the baking pan out everyday; it stores perfectly well in a big container in the fridge.

  • Keep the seeds, roast separately, and enjoy as a snack later.

  • If it’s too hard to cut in half initially, try cooking it in the microwave for 2 minutes to soften before cutting. If only you could see the several times my roommate and I have switched off max effort attempts and different knives trying to get some of these suckers open. I’ve read you can poke fork holes in the squash and roast it whole (though it takes a little longer to cook) and cut it after to get to the stringy-goodness.

  • Lastly, use it as the base of a meal and get creative! It goes well with most proteins and vegetables and takes on the flavor of added ingredients wonderfully. I like to start with a heaping amount, and then use up whatever’s in the fridge and eat a big ‘ol bowl style dinner.

Try adding things like:

  • Bacon! Bacon goes with everything, duh

  • Mexican-inspired ingredients like black beans and salsa

  • Lemon juice and shrimp

  • Shredded cheese and avocado slices

  • Sautéed mushrooms and spinach

  • Ground beef, ground turkey or shredded chicken

  • Steamed zucchini and broccoli

  • Grilled asparagus and light soy sauce

  • Tomato sauce – mmm! Remember: you don’t need much sauce to get plenty of flavor, and either use real tomatoes, make your own sauce or be mindful of the ingredients of a store-bought brand. Packaged tomato sauce usually has lots of added ingredients, especially sugar.

Now go enjoy a big plate of spaghetti squash for me! I’d love to hear your favorite things to pair it with in the comments below.