Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Choose It, Mix It, Stuff it!

Oh, just stuff it!  No, I'm not admonishing my readers with an expletive substitute.  I'm talking about squash and a wonderful fall dish I happened to make last week.  The winter squashes are now making their center stage entrance at all the farm stands, taking on those autumnal hues of gold, tan, orange and hunter green.  There are acorn squashes, nice when sliced and roasted with pork chops and apples and onions.  Acorn squash is also nice when halved and roasted with some butter and a little brown sugar.  Butternut squash, once roasted, has so many versatile presentations, from cubed and mixed into risottos or couscous to mashed and served alongside a roast Cornish hen.  Spaghetti squash, now that's a tougher one to figure out.  When halved lengthwise and roasted at 450 for about 30 minutes, you then dig into it with a fork and end up pulling out the flesh in strands which look like, well, spaghetti, hence the name.  What to do with that?  Well you can toss it with some butter, salt and pepper, or with pesto.  Better yet, you know what you can do with that spaghetti squash (come on now, altogether, say it): stuff it!

This is going to be a fun little recipe, in that while some of the ingredients will remain constant, others you get to pick from a couple of lists.  

1 spaghetti squash 

One of the following:
1 pound bulk Italian sausage, sweet or hot or combination of both
1 pound other sausage, such as chicken-apple, chorizo or andouille
1 pound ground beef
1 pound cooked, shredded chicken

1/2 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced

One to two of the following:
2 chopped bell peppers, any colors
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped
10 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 cup diced chopped plum tomatoes

2 cups marinara sauce

One of the following:
1/2 cup grated romano, parmesan or asagio cheese
1/2 cup of shredded monterey jack cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheddar

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.  Halve the spaghetti squash lengthwise, brush cut sides with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place squash halves, cut-side down, into a roasting pan.  Roast for 30 minutes, or until a knife easily pierces through the skin.  Remove and allow to cool.  Once cooled, using a fork, pull out the flesh and put the strands aside.  Reserve the two skins, placed rounded side down now back into the roasting pan and set aside.  Reduce oven temperature to 350-degrees.

In a skillet, fry the meat until it is cooked through.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent.  Add the remaining vegetable(s) of your choice and saute until they are cooked.  Stir in the marinara sauce and the spaghetti squash strands and mix well to combine everything.  Replace this mixture back into the two hollowed out spaghetti squash skins.  Top with the cheese.  Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Serves two.

Depending on your choices, you can make this Italian style, Mediterranean style, Southwestern style, really any style you dream up.  This is one of those recipes that isn't really a strict recipe, more like a conceptual guide.  You can add in any seasonings you want, such as some chopped green chilies or chipotles if you choose the chorizo and peppers, or a cup of sliced kalamata olives if you decide on the eggplant and chicken and in that case maybe you'd prefer to use feta for your cheese topping.  You could forego the meat altogether and just choose two or three vegetables that compliment each other.  I made this with sweet Italian sausages, red and green peppers and grated romano - simple but flavorful.  Winter squash is starchy, unlike summer squash, so this is a heavy entree.  You'll need nothing more than a salad and a well-matched beverage.  The joy of this dish is that it's easy to make, you can let your imagination create your winning combination, and it's hearty and satisfying - perfect for a cool weather weekday dinner.  So pick up a spaghetti squash next time you visit your farm stand or supermarket and see what you come up with - and feel free to brag and share some of your prized combinations, I'd love to hear from you.

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