Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Thine Own Self Be True

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”
–Polonius to Laertes Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3

One bite of something like “mock” crab, a soy dog, or textured vegetable protein masquerading as a beef burger, and you quickly learn the meaning of the word ersatz, or in many cases the phrase big fat phony. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that these imposters have no value of their own. If you live in Minnesota which is not known for its seafood (shockingly!), fake crab might have to do. If you’re vegetarian or are just cutting back on meat, you might miss sausage- or patty-shaped sandwiches. I find many veggie burgers to be pretty tasty (especially homemade ones like these, which actually contain real vegetables). I have insufficient experience, however, to comment on tofu dogs. The point is most of these foods won’t be so disappointing if you don’t try to convince yourself that you’re eating something you are not. Self-delusion is a pathetic thing.

And then there’s spaghetti squash, so called because its cooked flesh doesn’t turn into a soft pulp like other winter squash. It separates into strands which are vaguely spaghetti-like in shape, but that is where the similarity to pasta ends. Spaghetti squash doesn’t taste anything at all like spaghetti. It does, however, (and here’s where I write myself into a big hole), taste pretty good with standard pasta accompaniments. You can bake it as described below and toss it with a tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese, or pesto. It has a more neutral flavor than other squashes like butternut or pumpkin and keeps a little bit of bite to it. The strands hold these sauces and flavors and it’s all pretty good….But it’s still not spaghetti.

And so with my last spaghetti squash of the season, I decided to try to find something different, something that didn’t look like a fake pasta dish. I came across an old recipe from Cooking Light magazine for a Greek-style spaghetti squash salad. The recipe called for tomatoes and cucumbers. Those are definitely not in season (and those in the supermarket right now give further meaning to the word ersatz), so I pared it down to what I had on hand. Since that included kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onions, and the ingredients for a red wine vinaigrette, this turned out quite well.

This salad is light, and just a bit crisp. I was enjoying it, proud that I had made something that didn’t require dishonesty or masquerading ingredients. This wasn’t squash pretending to be spaghetti. Then I realized there was something familiar about it. It reminded me of …ahem…pasta salad.

Oh well. The squash is true enough to itself in this salad. It’s not my fault it happens to go well with so many things that also go well with noodles. There are probably many other foods to which that applies as well….I just can’t think of any right now.

Spaghetti Squash Salad with Greek Flavors Recipe
inspired by a recipe in Cooking Light Magazine

1 (2 ½ -3 pound or about 1.25-1.5 kg) spaghetti squash
¾ teaspoon (3 ml) coarse (kosher) salt, divided
1 ounce (about 30 g or 1/3 cup) chopped pitted kalamata olives
½ cup (about 125 ml) finely chopped red onion
2 ounces (about 50 g) crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon (15 ml) chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon (5 ml) dried oregano
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons (25 ml) red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons (25 ml) olive oil
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) sugar
pinch black pepper

1. To prepare the squash: Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Pierce the skin of the squash liberally with a knife. (Be sure to do this or the squash can explode in the oven.) Place the pierced squash in a baking dish. Bake at 350 F for about 1 hour. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and their membranes. Using a fork, find the “grain” of the strands of squash flesh and scrape the flesh into a large bowl. Discard the skin.

2. To make the salad: Toss the squash with ½ teaspoon salt. Add the olives, onion and feta cheese to the bowl with the squash and combine.

3. Finely chop the garlic. On the cutting board, add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to the garlic. Continue to chop, then make a paste by pressing and scraping the salt and garlic together with the flat side of the knife. Place the paste in a small bowl or in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

4. Add the vinegar, olive oil, sugar and black pepper to the garlic paste. Whisk vigorously, or shake vigorously if using a jar, until the mixture is very well combined. Pour over the squash mixture and toss to coat. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Makes at least 6 salad servings. Will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

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