Monday, November 19, 2012

Spaghetti Squash: A Healthy Twist on a Classic Meal!

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Who here loves spaghetti as much as I do? Spaghetti was ALWAYS my go-to dish in the elementary school cafeteria. When that savory smell started wafting through the halls of my school, I couldn't get to lunch fast enough. Who cared about taco day or sloppy joe day (or my white shirt, for that matter) when there was spaghetti to be eaten! My love for spaghetti didn't stop at school though, spaghetti was a staple in my family. My grandmother made it for us when we went to visit, my mom threw it together for a quick dinner and even my dad had a special spaghetti sauce recipe up his sleeve.

Shamefully, I never knew how to make spaghetti. My version of spaghetti involved a saute pan, a jar of Classico and a package of spaghetti noodles. Walah! Done in under 10 minutes! Now, while a jar of Classico or Prego isn't all that bad in the taste department, let's be honest! Homemade is just SO MUCH BETTER!

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So today, I stole Adam's spaghetti recipe and added my own twist to make it healthier! Have you ever heard of spaghetti squash? This winter squash is pretty unusual. It's a close relative of the melon and the cucumber, but once you cook it, the flesh falls apart into strings of 'spaghetti'. Besides being so fun to make (kids will love scraping the inside and watching it transform into spaghetti), spaghetti squash is an excellent addition to your meal because it's full of...

OMEGA-3 AND OMEGA-6 FATTY ACIDS - I'm sure fish come to mind when you hear the term omega-3's, but fish are not the only way to get them! The omega-3's in spaghetti squash help prevent heart disease, cancer and arthritis inflammation, and the omega-6's found in squash promote brain function.

CAROTENOIDS - Carotenoids are the natural pigments found in plants - they make the tomatoes red and the squash yellow. Spaghetti squash, and other winter squash, are chock full of them. The beta-carotene and alpha-carotene found in spaghetti squash are converted by your body into the form of vitamin A that you need to maintain normal vision and glowing skin. They also act as antioxidants, helping your body prevent and fight inflammation. Now tell me, does your pasta do that?

FOLATE - I talk a lot about folate. The natural form found in food is EXTREMELY important in preventing birth defects and helping the body repair damage. Folate can play a major part in cancer prevention, and you need to make it an important component of your diet. Eating spaghetti squash is an easy way to do just that!

POTASSIUM - Bananas aren't the only good source of potassium! C'mon, you can be a little more creative than that! Spaghetti squash provides a solid contribution to your required daily value of potassium, which your body uses to keep your muscles and nerves functioning! 

VITAMIN C - Your body needs vitamin C to support a healthy immune system. Vitamin C scavenges your body for cancer-causing free radicals and helps to neutralize them. It also makes collagen, a type of skin tissue that aids in wound healing and repair.

So you see, you could make spaghetti the old-fashioned way OR you could increase your meal's nutritional content by substituting spaghetti squash. If you cook it correctly, the squash tastes fairly neutral and won't affect the taste of your favorite dish! Even Adam was pleasantly surprised! 

So here we go... healthy spaghetti with spaghetti squash!

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the outside of the squash and pat it dry.
Then, if you're not a man, find one. Sometimes you need a little extra muscle to cut the squash in half length-wise.
Now get rid of the man (j/k) and scoop out the center.
You'll want that part to look clean and smooth when you're finished.
Fill a baking dish with 1/2 inch of water and lay the squash in (cut side down). Pop into the oven and set your alarm
for 45 minutes. Cooking can take anywhere from 45-60 minutes, so you'll want to check it along the way.
Meanwhile, on to the sauce...
I like to prep everything before I start cooking. NOTE: This recipe is for 1 batch of spaghetti (makes 3-4 servings).
You can easily double to have tomorrow's dinner ready and waiting! Finely chop 2-3 cloves of garlic.
Finely chop 1 medium-sized red onion.
Chop 1 package of white button tomatoes.
Chop 1 can of small black olives (or leave these out if you don't care for them). At this point, you can also
use a potato peeler to peel a few carrots. I use the potato peeler because it gives me see-through slices that I can't
create with just a knife.
In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add 1-2 Tbs. of extra virgin olive oil.
Throw in the garlic, red onion, and carrot slices (optional). Cook for 2-3 minutes.
Now, instead of using ground beef, we opt for lean ground turkey. I swear you won't notice the difference and
you'll be doing your body a favor.
Add the turkey to the garlic/onion mixture and cook all the way through (approx. 5 minutes - no pink left).
While it's cooking, spice it up a bit with a dash of pepper, garlic salt, dried basil or red pepper (whatever you like)!
Once it's cooked, if your pan is swimming in oil or fat, just dump a bit out (if you don't, the sauce will end up soupy).
Now add the mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes until they start to soften.
Throw in the olives, 1 can of diced tomatoes and 1 large can of crushed tomatoes.
Because I'm obsessed with spices, I add a bit more at this point. Make it your own!
Now I don't believe in sugar, but Adam does. It will make your spaghetti taste a little more sweet. Add 1 Tbs. at your own discretion (by no means is this a requirement). 
While the sauce is heating through, add 1-2 Tbs. of balsamic vinegar.
Once it's heated through, you're done! Look at that beautiful sauce! 
Now for the squash... it's done with you can pull it into strands with a fork and it still retains it's shape. We had a
humongous squash and it took exactly 1 hour. A small or medium squash will be closer to 45 minutes.
Have fun scraping the insides into spaghetti. I recommend putting the strands in a strainer
to remove excess water (just like you'd do for pasta). 
Then plate that healthy spaghetti up and enjoy! Think anyone will notice the difference?

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