Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spaghetti (Squash) with Meat Sauce

This recipe represents one more small step on my never-ending quest to feed my children and husband more healthfully. As I've mentioned before, as the resident chef here I walk a fine line between "healthy" and "too healthy". When any meal falls into what my children might qualify the "too healthy" category (meaning that they don't think it tastes delicious enough to merit the high vegetable intake) they will mainly push the food around on their plate a little before asking what else we have in the refrigerator.

Luckily, a mommy really can't go wrong with spaghetti. Whenever my kids ask me what we are having for dinner and I reply, "Pasta with red sauce", their little faces illuminate as though I have just told them that Santa Claus himself is coming to share the meal. There may well be many children out there that don't enjoy spaghetti, but in my house, it is an absolute favorite.

Thanks to this incredible good will in our home toward spaghetti I felt like I could experiment a little and push the envelope... so lately I've been working on this homemade ragout using spaghetti squash in lieu of pasta.

I hadn't really cooked much with spaghetti squash before. In general, I think I've always been a little intimidated by most winter squashes. Luckily my local grocery store places a little sticker on each squash with specific directions for how to cook it using either the conventional oven or a microwave. The first time I tried my hand at making a spaghetti squash, I definitely didn't cook it for long enough and so the threads of squash were more difficult to fork out of the rind and perhaps a bit too al dente.

My main advice with this recipe would be to make sure that you cook your spaghetti squash until the threads are soft and supple, and then be sure to saute them a little longer once you have combined them with your meat and vegetable sauce. I always know when I've cooked the spaghetti squash perfectly because my children don't ask me why their "pasta" is crunchy. (I think this is one occasion when it is definitely preferable to overcook rather than undercook the spaghetti!) When served fresh, warm and perhaps dusted with a bit of Parmesan cheese, this meal makes an ideal option for a truly heart-healthy yet traditional family meal.

Spaghetti (Squash) with Meat Sauce

What You'll Need:

1 spaghetti squash
2 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium onion, minced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 handfuls mushrooms, minced
3-4 small zucchini squash, minced
1/4 cup red Zinfandel
15 oz diced tomatoes
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
Italian seasoning
garlic powder

How It Works:

With a cleaver or strong long-bladed knife, cut spaghetti squash in half width-wise. Place one-half of squash with cut end down in about 1/2 inch of water, in a glass dish. Cover with well with plastic wrap (so that plastic is well affixed to sides of the glass dish, creating a sort of air pocket all around the base of the squash). Microwave on high for about 12-14 minutes or until you can easily remove squash "spaghetti" strands from the rind with the tines of a fork. Repeat all steps with 2nd half of spaghetti squash. Pour squash spaghetti into a large bowl, cover it and set aside.


Pour grapeseed oil into the base of a large, deep saucepan and heat at a medium-high temperature. When oil is warm but not smoking, add ground beef and break up any chunks with a large wooden spoon. Stir beef while cooking, seasoning with salt, fresh ground pepper, garlic powder and Italian seasoning to taste. (I use about 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground pepper, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1/2 tsp garlic powder... but you should make it to suit your personal enjoyment and/or any health restrictions you may have.)

When meat has browned, remove it from the pan and place to the side in a separate bowl. Return your deep saucepan (with the same oil) to the stovetop burner and add minced onions. Saute for about two minutes, stirring constantly and then add garlic. Saute for another minute. When garlic smells fragrant (but has not burned), add the minced mushrooms and zucchini. (You may decide to add another glug of grapeseed oil at this point.) Combine everything well with your wooden spoon and then saute the vegetable mixture covered for 3-5 minutes. (Covering will release the moisture in the mushrooms and zucchini without drying them out.) Remove the cover, check your mixture. Stir, reduce temperature a bit and allow to continue sauteing over medium-low heat if the veggies seem too moist or raw.

When your vegetables have finished their dance in the saute pan, re-add the browned ground beef and combine well using the wooden spoon. Next add your diced tomatoes and stir them gently. Cook for the entire sauce for 2 minutes, and then add the zinfandel. Reduce heat to low, stir well, and allow to simmer uncovered. Simmer for a minimum of 10-15 minutes on low. Feel free to simmer longer, the flavor only gets more delicious with increased simmering.

As the time nears when you are ready to serve, add about 3/4 of your squash "spaghetti" strands into your meat sauce and combine everything on the stove over low heat for a few minutes to re-warm the squash strands and fuse all of the flavors together. (You may also prefer to serve the squash pasta as a "bed" with the sauce spooned gently onto its top.) If you enjoy cheese, try grating a bit of Parmesan cheese over the top of each plate before serving.

Serves 6. Just as delicious on the second day, makes great leftovers!

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