Sub a Veggie for Spaghetti

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I love pasta as much as the next person. It's easy, it's cheap and it's convenient. But it's not exactly packed with nutrients. I think I have found a great alternative to the simple pasta dish. Don't get me wrong, I will eat pasta, but subbing in a healthier alternative once in a while can't hurt.

What is this mysterious vegetable that I plan on replacing spaghetti with? Spaghetti squash, of course. I've seen it on restaurant menus for years and have always marveled at its long strands and pasta-like texture. I had always assumed, however, that the flesh was manipulated in some way to get it to act like noodles. I was wrong. It's as simple as running a fork through the cooked squash.

Spaghetti squash (also known as vegetable spaghetti, noodle squash, spaghetti marrow in the United Kingdom, squaghetti, gold string melon in Japan or fish fin melon in China) is a winter squash—a cousin of butternut and acorn squash. It's a large yellow squash, averaging from 4 to 8 pounds, though I've seen some as small as two pounds in stores around D.C., with an intriguing flesh. After cooking, the flesh pulls away from the peel in long strands. The mild-flavored spaghetti-like strands can be mixed with a sauce or eaten as a side dish.

Spaghetti squash packs quite a healthy punch, too. Today's most common varietal, the Orangetti, was developed in the 1990s and is darker orange in color than other versions which tend to be pale ivory to pale yellow. This variety is higher in beta carotene and is slightly sweeter than the paler versions. Spaghetti squash also has folic acid, potassium and vitamin A. A four-ounce serving of spaghetti squash has only 37 calories. (You can probably burn that off by washing dishes after the meal.)

My favorite way to eat it is with shrimp scampi and asparagus tossed in. I poked some holes in the squash—a simple, but essential step, lest the whole thing explode in the oven. I baked the squash at 350 degrees for about an hour, let it cool, cut it in half and forked out the flesh. I sauteed shrimp and asparagus with some garlic, butter, white wine and lemon juice. If that's not your style, a quick internet search reveals dozens of interesting recipes. Fabulous foods has a recipe for spaghetti squash pancakes; they look similar to potato pancakes. Fabulous foods also has tips for buying, storing and cooking spaghetti squash.

In addition to being an easily prepped food, spaghetti squash is also an easy-to-grow food. Hearty winter squashes, like pumpkins, require a lot of space but not a lot of attention. The University of Illinois Extension has some tips for growing all types of winter squashes if you're feeling adventurous. Someday, if I ever get out of small rental units, I'd like to think squash would be one of the residents of my backyard garden.

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