Spaghetti Squash Casserole
By Dennis Linden
Here’s a deliciously efficient recipe that is best described as a cacciatore-like casserole served in its own low calorie, low carb, nutritious, edible casserole dish! Submitted by Kevin Stephens, over 15 year member of Melissa’s Procurement Team, who confessed that the creation of the dish was quite serendipitous. The spaghetti squash was an impulse buy on his way home from the office one day. So, also on short notice, daughter Michelle took it from there by combining some chicken leftovers, a few fresh veggies found in the crisper and two of Melissa’s jarred condiments from their pantry, into a scrumptious Italian Mediterranean filling. And since the edible “bowl” for that tasty filling serves as a vegetable side dish, one gets a complete two-course meal in each delectable forkful!
Spaghetti squash is one of those ingredients that I vow to use more often every time I work with it, but never seem to follow though and should! Kevin’s recipe shows just how easy it is to present Ma Nature’s version of fresh spaghetti noodles in a creative way. Of course this squash beats real pasta when it comes to both fat and caloric content, but the same holds true when compared to other winter squash varieties. Spaghetti squash has only 42 calories per cup count; most varieties of winter squash contain almost twice the calories per serving. The squash also only contains 10 grams of total carbohydrates compared to most types of winter squash 18+ grams. And while nutrients cannot be tasted, your metabolism will appreciate the Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, and potassium that this variety of squash delivers. So spaghetti squash selection hints suggest that the larger the squash, the thicker the interior noodle-like strands will be and thicker strand are supposedly more flavorful. I think that taste is such a subjective thing and I could find no proof to substantiate this flavor supposition. However, most palates will agree that compared to most other winter squash varieties, spaghetti squash is extremely mild in flavor with very little sweetness. This rather neutral taste characteristic makes the variety a good base for both savory and sweet dishes.
Since this recipe was created on the fly in the first place, Kevin says that the ingredients can certainly be flexed to reflect personal preferences as well as what people have in their own crispers. His suggestions included adding olives, bell peppers or red pepper flakes to the filling; while mozzarella is one of his favorites, he pointed out that there are also a number of other fine Italian cheese options that would work just as well. I should also report that when I ran out of spinach for a second prep of this dish I subbed in fresh kale and it was also pretty good, though I preferred the peppery bite that the spinach added. Actually, that second batch taught me another lesson. That is, after the initial bake and stuffing of the softened squash halves I tried chilling them overnight with the idea that they could be finished with the final 20-minute bake the next day. Unfortunately, the cooked squash discolored unattractively and turned slightly translucent; the filling mix could certainly be made ahead, but I would recommend cooking the squash the same day as the serving.
The fresh produce industry is comprised of so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables from around the world that those professionals who trade in distribution of these perishable commodities must specialize. As a member of Melissa’s Procurement teams, Kevin Stephens’ business day is split between three categories of crops that each have many sub-varieties to manage: Potatoes, Onions and Tropicals. Kevin must maintain a consistent in-house inventory to match the ebb and flow of these crops as they are shipped through our facilities or from our grower-suppliers at field level to retail and wholesale customers around the country. This takes a network of growers located in key growing regions, both nationally and internationally, that Kevin has cultivated over the years. Also, as successful professional produce buyer, Kevin must possess a keen “market sense” for field and market conditions that will affect the supply of the crops that he works with in order to be able to anticipate, exploit and prepare the company’s sales department and clients for both supply opportunities and interruptions. It takes many years for a field produce buyer to make it look easy and Kevin does, though if he does his job right he will be like a good print job of a book, no one notices. If everything is going smoothly – the sun is shining, the crops are harvesting on schedule and as projected – Kevin is the invisible man. Conversely, if the company runs out of red potatoes all of a sudden, all eyes immediately look to Kevin’s desk for the explanation of this “typo”. Of course, that’s an impossible scenario that a 20+ year veteran in the fresh produce wars would never let happen, right? Unfortunately, no amount of experience can stop a field-damaging rain or hail or wind or heat or frost and Mother Nature will always have two votes to his one no matter how badly the company needs those red potatoes.
When not on weather watch at his desk, Kevin enjoys a very active household with wife Tina and daughters Michelle & Mara. Kevin loves sports of all kinds -- especially English Football [soccer], and especially London’s Arsenal FC! He also mentioned his appreciation for music of almost any kind as well as an extreme fondness for several libations produced by the brewery industry. It’s not difficult to envision that these three favorite pastimes have probably crossed paths simultaneously more than once. Thanks for the tasty recipe, Kevin, may all our harvests arrive on time.
Spaghetti Squash Casserole
2 Spaghetti squash, small/medium
2 TBS olive oil
1 Carrot, shredded
2 cups Chicken breast, grilled, shredded or diced
1 cup Crimini Mushrooms, sliced
½ cup Melissa's Sun Dried Tomatoes
½ cup Melissa’s Basil Pesto
2 cups Spinach leaves, torn
6 oz. Mozzarella cheese, grated, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish
Cut spaghetti squash in half, scoop out seeds. Generously brush squash cavity with olive oil, then place in a glass or non-stick baking pan, empty cavity side down, cover with foil and roast @ 400° for 30 minutes or until just slightly soft to the touch.
While squash is roasting, sauté the shredded carrot until tender. Add cooked chicken, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, pesto sauce and spinach. Sauté on medium flame until spinach has wilted; season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and mix in half the cheese.
Once the squash halves have been softened, carefully flip them over and fill each cavity with the chicken mixture, then top with remaining cheese. Put back in oven uncovered, this time baking @ 350° for 20 minutes or until cheese has begun to brown slightly.
Plating: If working with a very large squash, quarter for individual servings; a small squash served by the half. Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley.