Simple Sides: Spaghetti Squash “Spaghetti” with Prosciutto and Figs
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food, and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy, and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks that will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability and to identify where adult attention might be needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic; this is by design. We hope these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills, and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
The spaghetti squash is a fascinating and fun variety of winter squash – especially for a beginner cook. The fun part is watching the culinary awe on your kitchen helpers’ faces as noodle-like strands seem to explode out of the shell of baked spaghetti squash. The variety has a very mild, slightly sweet, almost neutral flavor that is not nearly as pronounced in taste as other winter squash, like acorn or butternut squash. As its name advertises, this squash’s main characteristic is having the look and texture of spaghetti noodles, which are also pretty neutral in the flavor department. Both take on the flavors of the ingredients or sauce cooked with them. The difference is that one cup of pasta has 200 calories while one cup of spaghetti squash has only 40!
Nutritionally, spaghetti squash truly is a superfood! It’s loaded with vitamin A, beta carotene and lutein, which is key for healthy eyes. It’s also rich in vitamin B for cellular function and potassium, which naturally lowers high blood pressure and helps to maintain good muscle and nerve health. Especially important for children, spaghetti squash contains manganese that aids in bone and tissue health. As for pasta noodles, the carbs are a source of energy if one is active and there is a minimal amount of fiber and some vitamin B, though the nutritional value does not come close to that of spaghetti squash.
The main topping of this tasty dish of faux noodles is Melissa’s Dried Golden Figs that have been reconstituted in water overnight. Use fresh figs when in season (June – October), although, keep in mind, fresh figs will not hold their shape as well when cooked compared to reconstituted dried figs, so the dish will have a slightly different texture. Soaking will add water to the figs, making it easier for your helpers to slice in half. In addition, the reconstituted interior fruit of each fig takes on a more attractive appearance. Figs have a variety of health benefits. Doctors note figs improve digestion and decrease constipation, help maintain blood sugar levels and even kill some types of cancer cells. Plus, they are just plain delicious!
The combination of figs, onion, garlic and a few slices of prosciutto sautéed to crispy goodness makes for the perfect topping and flavor complement to the spaghetti squash. For a slightly different flavor profile, this hearty topping would also work with brown rice or quinoa if spaghetti squash is unavailable. Using real pasta noodles would not change the flavor much compared to spaghetti squash, though the dish would have five times the calorie count!
Spaghetti Squash & Figs
1 medium spaghetti squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup diced yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 slices prosciutto
1 cup Organic Dried Golden Figs, reconstituted
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
What the supervising adult should do:
Slice the spaghetti squash lengthwise, as the hard shell might be a challenge for your helpers. Then let the kids take over prepping the two halves for the oven. Roast squash at 350°F for approximately 45 minutes, or until slightly soft. Oversee the stages of sautéing per the recipe for the topping. Many aspiring chefs started out cooking by standing on a chair in front of the stovetop!
What the kids can do:
Scoop out the seeds, then brush the two halves of the squash with olive oil and place them cut side down in a baking pan with a little water.
While the spaghetti squash is roasting, slice the figs in half, dice the yellow onion and mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the onions and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. Add prosciutto and figs. Cook until the figs are soft and the prosciutto is crispy, approximately 3 minutes.
Once the squash is roasted, use a fork to carefully scoop out the “noodles” into a mixing bowl.
Serve family-style: Transfer the squash onto a large serving plate, pour the fig mixture over the top and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.