What a coincidence that Adam had posted on the CrossFit Fort Vancouver site yesterday about spaghetti squash (among others), and we were already planning on making it for dinner this week. I guess maybe great minds think alike. So if you read that and want to know a little more, you’ve come to the right place.
Spaghetti with meat and tomato sauce is just about as Americanized as an ethnic dish can get. Who hasn’t eaten spaghetti and red sauce or spaghetti and meat balls? Mention the words “Italian restaurant,” and I’ll bet nearly every kid under age 11 and at least half of all adults immediately think of spaghetti. There are nearly as many ways to serve spaghetti as there are ways to make a pizza (look for future posts on some Primal ways to do that too). But just like all types of pizza are made with a crust to hold the toppings, all types of spaghetti dishes start with a long, cylindrical pasta made of flour and water.
That’s it. Flour, and water. Powdered wheat, and H2O. Gluten, and the byproduct of hydrogen combustion. The same ingredients that, when mixed in a slightly different ratio, form the glue used in elementary school projects also involving balloons and strips of newspaper. Sound tasty yet?
Better yet – ever notice that plain pasta doesn’t really have a taste at all? Yes, there’s that starchy sort of taste and mouthfeel that entices those elementary school children to eat spoonfuls of the paste (don’t deny it either), but the true flavor in a pasta dish comes from everything else in there – whether you like it with just butter and some Parmesan on top, or chorizo sausage and marinara, or mussels and a cream sauce. The pasta is just filler. Carbohydrate-dense, blood-sugar-spiking, nutrient-lacking filler that breaks down in your digestive system to something that much closer resembles the papier-mâché glue than the skinny noodles it started out as.
That brings us to a wonderful substitution in the Primal kitchen. Spaghetti squash. At one quarter the carbohydrate load and one fifth the calorie load compared to basic cooked pasta, this fruit (technically speaking) has the additional benefits of being gluten free, nutrient dense, and full of essential nutrients not found in it’s namesake Neolithic relative. And, it has a flavor that is pretty much as neutral as the pasta we’re replacing with it – so even the kids really won’t notice the difference (or may even like it more). Best of all, you can have a huge helping, and still get up from the dinner table without feeling like someone dumped a pile of bricks in your stomach for the next four hours.
- 1 spaghetti squash
- 1-1/2 lbs grass-fed free-range ground beef
- 1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
- 1 can (15 oz) diced or stewed tomatoes
- 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic
- Assorted veggies as you desire – we’ve got mushrooms, a carrot, 1/2 green bell pepper, and small head of broccoli here
- 2 tbsp generic “Italian” seasoning (or your own mix of thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, and sage)
- dash of sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Split the squash lengthwise (you’ll need a sturdy knife and a good cutting board surface for this – be careful too), and scrape out all of the seeds and stringy stuff holding the seeds in. You’ll be able to see right away at the cut line all the individual “noodles” that make up the flesh of this squash.
Get all your veggies chopped up and into a prep bowl (or two – I ran out of room in the first one). Mince the garlic up (that’s it on top of the broccoli). Keep checking on the burger and breaking it up with a spatula while you’re chopping, so that it should be about ready at the same time you’re done chopping. Drain the fat off the meat, if you want (if you’ve got grass-fed meat, you may consider leaving the fat in there for extra goodness).
Add the veggies, the herbs, the tomato products, and the dash of salt to the meat. Stir it all up well, then reduce the heat to a simmer and put the lid back on. At this point, you’ve probably got five minutes or so left on the timer on the squash. Get started on a salad, or something else for a side dish.
When the timer goes off for the squash, check it by pushing down with the back of the fork on the skin – it should yield without having to press too hard. Think of the finger test for grilling meat. Only don’t use your finger! That squash has been sitting in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, it’s not going to be cool to the touch! So, with the back of the fork, we’re looking for about medium to medium-rare on the “poke test.” You may need to go a little longer. If so, set the timer for another 5 minutes and recheck. Continue until you’ve got that medium-rare feel.
Pull the pan out of the oven and set it on a hot-pad. Check the sauce again, stir as needed, and cover again (this is just to let the squash cool a second). Grab a hot-pad holder – preferably one with silicon or other “grippy” material on the palm, and grab one of the squash halves with your non-dominant hand. You can see above that the edges that were on the pan were just starting to brown a little – another sign we were cooked just right. Scrape the fork across the inside of the squash, and notice how the individual noodles pull out and separate. If they all seem stuck together and hard to separate, then you’ve not cooked it long enough. Give it another 5 minutes and try again.
Work your way along the sides and down to the skin, scraping and “fluffing” the noodles as you go. You should be able to get nearly all of the noodles out of the skin easily, with exception of a small area around the stem and the opposite end. Continue with the other half so you have a big bowl of pseudo-pasta. Then, if you hadn’t quite finished your side dish or salad before the squash was done, go back to finishing it.
Serve it like you would your spaghetti with red sauce – throw some noodles on your plate, cover it in the good stuff, and fill the rest of the plate with a green salad (or whatever your side dish was). Enjoy!