Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

I’m always looking for recipes to help me prove that spaghetti squash is not just fake spaghetti. Well, not always, but certainly when the stuff is in season and I get a few in my CSA box. Almost two years ago, this search led me to a Greek-flavored spaghetti squash salad that I was feeling pretty smug about, until I realized it reminded me of pasta salad.

This year I found a take on something more like a general vegetable treatment: gratin. You’ve seen other vegetables treated this way, layered with cheese (or béchamel sauce or cream), topped with breadcrumbs and baked. The original version was made with walnuts, bacon and mozzarella cheese, but I went with cheddar cheese and omitted the walnuts. I left the bacon right where it was. Everything’s better with bacon.

Speaking of the bacon, this recipe only calls for two slices of thick-cut bacon. You’ll want more. I know you will. And that would probably work just fine. I found the two slices, chopped, cooked and layered into the casserole, to be enough. You do what you feel you must in the name of bacon.

Let’s face it, spaghetti squash is a bit on the bland side, so I liked the sharp cheddar and bacon, both of which are strongly flavored and add a lot to this dish. I also spiced things up with a bit of Aleppo pepper, which I’ve really only just discovered, and with which I am quite enamored. You could use black pepper or another ground or crushed chile pepper that you like, or omit it if you don’t want the extra heat.

Overall, this is a nice, tasty and easy way to enjoy spaghetti squash. There’s much more work involved in preparing the squash than there is in assembling and baking the casserole. (I still like to use the method of baking the whole squash a bit, then cutting it when it’s slightly softened, which is much easier than hacking into a raw squash.) You could do all the assembly as much as a day ahead, then just heat it up to serve and you’ll have a nice vegetable dish without anyone seeing you sweat.

While this is first and foremost a vegetable dish (with cheese and bacon) and a great treatment for spaghetti squash, I just can’t help but wonder how good it would be with noodles instead.

Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Bacon and Cheddar
Adapted from this recipe at Chocolate and Zucchini

I used two squash for this recipe for a total of about 4 1/2 pounds.

4-5 pounds whole spaghetti squash
2 slices thick-cut bacon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or chile or black pepper of your choice)
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Pierce the squash skin all over with a sharp knife. Place the whole squash on a baking sheet or in a large baking dish. Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds. Return the squash to the baking pan or dish and return to a 375 F oven. Bake another 20-30 minutes or until the squash flesh is tender and can easily be separated into strands. Let stand until cool enough to handle.

3. While the squash is baking and cooling, cut the bacon into small strips. Cook the bacon in a pan over medium heat until browned. Drain on a paper towel. Set aside.

4. When the squash has cooled a bit, scrape the flesh from the shell-like skin with a fork. It will separate into strands. Place these strands in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and pepper.

5. Lightly grease, oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray a 2 quart (2 liter) baking dish. Place about half of the squash mixture into the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese and half the bacon.

6. Layer the remaining squash over the bacon and top that with the remaining cheese and bacon. Cover it all with the breadcrumbs in an even layer.

7. Bake at 375 F for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the breadcrumbs are browned and toasted.

Makes about 4 main-dish servings or 6-8 side-dish servings.

Other recipes like this one: Spaghetti Squash Salad with Greek Flavors, Spicy Potato and Tomato Gratin with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Mustard Rye Croutons

One year ago: Cranberry Vinaigrette

Two years ago: Roasted Vegetables

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