When it comes to healthy eating, it seems difficult to find foods that you can get all year round that have many advantages, few disadvantages, and a lot of versatility. But the spaghetti squash is one such food.
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When you hear about spaghetti squash, you can get into pasta. Rest assured, however, that it belongs to the same family as other winter squash and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. To find out all about this wonderful food, we spoke to Registered Nutritionist Beth Czerwony, RD.
What is spaghetti squash?
A pumpkin, like pumpkins and other gourds, the spaghetti squash is a large, yellow, melon-shaped food that is usually harvested in early fall but is available in grocery stores almost every season of the year.
Because of the way the meat breaks up into long strands in the pumpkin, it’s often used as a healthier substitute for spaghetti – hence the name. These “noodles” can be used in a pasta dish or in a variety of other ways.
How long can you keep spaghetti squash?
Its tough, thick skin makes it hard to tell whether it’s “ripe” or not, but that’s not really a problem, says Czerwony. “If you plan to cook it as soon as you buy it, you don’t have to worry about it aging on the counter,” she says. “And it’s a hearty winter vegetable. As long as you keep it in a cool, dry place, it can theoretically be a few weeks before you cook it.”
The only thing to look out for is bruising. “The skin is a little thinner than a pumpkin. So if you get bruises it can lead to soft spots. You can cut these around for cooking, but just be aware that you can, ”she says.
The health benefits of spaghetti squash
Like other members of the pumpkin family, the spaghetti squash is rich in vitamins and nutritional values. “You get tons of vitamin C, vitamin B6, beta-carotene, and fiber,” says Czerwony.
It also contains antioxidants, which Czerwony says are especially helpful for other reasons. “We’re talking about free radicals from the polluted air we ingest and the damage they can do to your body. But these antioxidants fight them and break them down, ”she says.
In addition to these benefits, spaghetti squash is both filling and low in calories. “A cup is a pretty good serving and that’s only about 40 calories,” says Czerwony. “It’s really a great way to cut calories from your meal without affecting the mouthfeel you are looking for.”
Because spaghetti squash is high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, it won’t mess with your blood sugar in the way high-carb foods – especially semolina pasta – can, according to Czerwony.
Does the spaghetti squash have any disadvantages?
According to Czerwony, the only real downside to spaghetti squash is if you have an allergy. “If you don’t have an allergy, it’s high in fiber and essential vitamins while it’s low in calories and carbohydrates,” she says. “It’s a winner.”
How to prepare and cook spaghetti squash
Now that you know how good spaghetti squash is for you, how do you cook that big squash that sits on your counter?
“The most important thing to remember is that you have to cook it thoroughly,” says Czerwony. “It’s heavy and thick, so you’ll have to roast or steam it for a while to really soften it.”
Since the edible part of the spaghetti squash is inside that tough exterior, you may need to cut the squash in half. Since this can be quite a struggle even with a good, sharp knife, Czerwony recommends boiling the pumpkin first.
“You can certainly try to cut it open before you cook it, but because that outer layer is so thick it can be very difficult to cut open. You could cut yourself or even chop the pumpkin a little too much, ”she says.
By boiling the pumpkin first – – Czerwony recommends roasting it in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit – – The outside becomes softer and easier to cut.
Once you’ve roasted the pumpkin and cut it in half, scoop out the seeds. After the seeds are cleared out, scrape the inside of the pumpkin with a fork. The meat should be minced into long, thin strands, very similar to spaghetti pasta. And you will be giving plenty of pumpkin to eat.
“Because the skin is so thin, you get a lot out of the pumpkin,” says Czerwony. “And the seeds are edible too. You can rinse them off and then toast them in a variety of ways such as pumpkin seeds. There isn’t a lot of trash. “
However, make sure it is fully cooked. “Even if you’ve roasted it whole for a while, make sure the meat inside is still fully cooked,” says Czerwony. “You will be able to tell because the meat will be difficult to grind if it isn’t.”
At this point you are ready to prepare your plate. Whether you mix shredded pumpkin with pasta, replace pasta entirely, or use it for a salad, the vegetables will add a unique mouthfeel and earthy taste to your meals.
Spaghetti Pumpkin Recipes
Here are a few spaghetti squash recipes to get you started.
Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and cheese
Since spaghetti squash is typically used as a pasta substitute, this is a great first recipe if you’ve never tried the pumpkin. Just dip in the shredded pasta for your traditional pasta.
Sauteed spinach and tomatoes over roasted spaghetti squash
If you want to improve your pasta substitution game a little, this recipe, along with pine nuts, gives the mixture a healthy vegetable flavor for added crunch.
Thai peanut spaghetti squash
Replacing noodles with spaghetti squash is a great option for many different types of recipes, including this favorite of Asian cuisine.