Monday, August 11, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Casserole- Two Ways

Recently I was looking over my past entries in this blog, and I realized that I have posted a lot of pasta recipes!  Pasta is great- it's delicious, filling, fast, and if you use whole grain pasta, pretty healthy.  However, not everyone can eat pasta- those on low-carb diets, or those who are on a gluten-free diet.  We like pasta just fine at my house, though it is not the most figure-friendly food on the planet, but as I said, it's quick and easy, so ends up making an appearance at dinner frequently.

I've seen a lot about using spaghetti squash as an alternative to pasta, and my past attempts were not always that successful.  It's a texture thing- while it may LOOK like spaghetti noodles, and are fairly mild-flavored, the texture is NOTHING like pasta.  I learned early on that when cooking with spaghetti squash, it's best to use it in dishes where you are not expecting the texture of spaghetti.  Therefore, something like, say, spaghetti, is out of the question.  I have had pretty good luck with casseroles, though.  The spaghetti squash is lighter than pasta, but has enough heft and substance to provide a good structure to a casserole.  My first experiment was a casserole in which the spaghetti squash strands were mixed with ricotta and parmesan cheeses, an egg, and some sauteed veggies, mixed together, and baked.  It was tasty!  This weekend, I tried a different casserole, not one, but two ways.  I didn't plan it that way- I just ended up with more ingredients than I could use for one casserole, so whipped up a second "lazy" version with the rest!

This is a take on lasagna, and though I used ground beef, ground turkey or chicken would be equally good, and would lighten the dish even further.  I used a jarred spaghetti sauce, though a lot of the recipes I researched call for using canned or fresh tomatoes and making your own quick sauce.  I had jars of sauce in my pantry, so in the interest of time, used it.  I used what veggies I had on hand, which included zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, and onion, but you can use other veggies as well.  Eggplant would be good, as would broccoli or asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, etc.  In the first version, I started with a layer of cooked spaghetti squash strands on the bottom of a 9x9 pan, then spread on a layer of ricotta/cottage cheese mixed with an egg, then topped with my sauce, which included the beef and veggies.  In the second version, everything was mixed together and plopped into the pan and baked.  Both are tasty, and next time, I might do a hybrid of these, where I mix the spaghetti squash strands with a bit of the cheese and sauce for the bottom layer, then layer as described above.

This recipe makes a lot- I probably could have done one large (9x13) pan, but did two smaller ones instead.  If you just want one smaller pan, just use half of a spaghetti squash and cut the rest of the ingredients in half.

Spaghetti Squash Casserole, Two Ways

1 average-sized spaghetti squash
1.25 pounds ground beef (or turkey)
Olive oil
1/2 of a large onion
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1/2 of a red bell pepper
1 jar of spaghetti sauce (I used a roasted garlic and onion one)
1 15 oz. container of part skim ricotta cheese
About 1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese
1 egg
About 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Optional: shredded mozzarella for top

(Side note and funny story: I did not have any mozzarella, but did have some string cheese.  I decided to slice a few of them up and sprinkle on top of the casserole, figuring they would melt together.  Um, nope!  They maintained their shape and rather rubbery texture, so I had a polka-dotted casserole top!  Hence not having any photos of this dish.  Next time I make it, I'll take photos.)

Method 1:

1.  Slice spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.  Spray a baking sheet lightly with cooking spray and place squash halves cut sides down.  Bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes until soft.   Cool, then use a fork to shred the strands of squash out of the skins.  Set aside.

2.  Dice the onion, pepper, zucchini and yellow squash into uniformly sized pieces.  Heat a couple tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet and add vegetables.  Sautee until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Remove vegetables to a plate and set aside.

3.  Add ground beef to pan and cook, breaking it up to crumble as it cooks.  Drain excess fat and liquids.  When completely cooked, add vegetables back to pan and heat through.

4.  Add spaghetti sauce and heat through.

5.  Meanwhile, mix ricotta and cottage cheeses together in a bowl with one egg, until egg is well incorporated.

6.  Spray a 9x13 pan or two 9x9 pans with cooking spray.  Add spaghetti squash strands in an even layer about 1/2 to 1 inch thick.

7.  Spread cheese mixture over spaghetti squash.  Top with sauce.

8.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, until sauce is bubbly.  Sprinkle with parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese and bake 5 minutes more, until cheese is melted.

Method 2:

1.  Follow steps 1 through 5 above and prepare pan(s) with cooking spray.

2.  Mix spaghetti squash, cheese, and sauce together in a bowl and pour into pan.

3.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, until sauce is bubbly.  Sprinkle with parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese and bake 5 minutes more, until cheese is melted.

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