I like to celebrate February as the Month of Love: love for a partner, love for your family & friends, and most importantly, love for yourself. So for each week in February, I am going to share one of my recipes featuring a culture that shares my food philosophy: FOOD IS LOVE.
Sharing Italian food is synonymous with romance–there’s something about Italian that makes you feel decadent and cared for. One delicious bite can make you feel like you’ve received a warm, passionate hug. Being present together over a shared meal “made with love” is what I want to entice you to do this month.
My spaghetti squash “pasta” will impress anyone lucky enough to be your heart’s desire. This Italian feast-in-a-pot is the perfect centerpiece for your next gathering, be it a romantic date with a bottle of wine or a celebration with friends. Not only is it gluten-free and vegan, but it’s simple to make and extremely satisfying.
Spaghetti Squash gets its name from its noodle-like texture when cooked. It is the perfect hearty base for a pasta-alternative meal. When the liquid is cooked out of the squash, it soaks up any flavors that you infuse it with, making the richness of the dish truly satiating while still feeling light and healthy.
Spaghetti Squash “Pasta”
1 – large Spaghetti Squash (football sized) or 2 smaller Spaghetti Squash
2 – Zucchini
2 – small Japanese Eggplant (optional)
1 – 8 oz. carton of Mushrooms
1 – medium-sized Red Onion
5 – cloves of Garlic
1/2 cup – chopped Organic Basil
1 – 28 oz. can of San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes
1 – 15 oz. can of Artichoke Hearts
1 – 8 oz. carton of small Organic Tomatoes
1 – tsp Dried Oregano
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
Red Pepper Flakes (to taste)
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan (to taste, optional)
1 – ball of Burrata (1 serving = 1 oz.) (to taste, optional)
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. With a fork, poke holes all over the exterior of the spaghetti squash. With a large knife, cut the squash open length-wise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Drizzle olive oil over the squash and rub over the outside and inside of the halves. On a baking sheet, place the squash halves open-side down (skin-side up). Bake for 35-40 minutes, depending on the size of your squash. The squash is “done” when it “shreds” easily with a fork and the consistency of the “noodle” is not crunchy. The “noodle” should have a limp “pasta noodle”-like consistency.
While your squash is in the oven, heat a pot on the stovetop with 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Dice the onion into small pieces and mince the garlic. Throw the onion and garlic into the pot and allow to caramelize, stirring occasionally. (The onion will become translucent. As onions cook, they release “sugars” that will start to brown the edges.)
Cut the small tomatoes in half and add to the pot. Allow the tomatoes to cook down to a paste consistency. Open the can of San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes and add to the pot. With a spoon, “break” the peeled tomatoes down. They should fall apart pretty easily to a chunky sauce consistency. Simmer over medium to low heat, stirring occasionally. Add 1 tsp dried oregano. Add salt, pepper & red pepper flakes to taste. The longer this marinara sauce simmers, the more excess liquid evaporates and the richer the sauce will taste. I like to simmer the sauce for as long as possible until the marinara is a very chunky consistency, at least 20-30 minutes.
***I have made this recipe many times without eggplant, but if it is in season I enjoy adding additional vegetables for more texture. If you choose to use eggplant in this recipe, slice the eggplant into thin medallions and then half them. On a cutting board, sprinkle the eggplant pieces with salt and allow to sit. The salt draws the moisture out of the eggplant. (This is an important step; the vegetables “sweat” when cooked and the additional liquid that comes out of the eggplant will dilute the flavors of the sauce.) After 5-10 minutes, you will see beads of moisture that you can dab off with a paper towel.
**Also note: the longer you let them “sweat”, the better the eggplant is texture-wise. The more moisture that is pulled out before cooking, the less “slimy” the eggplant will be once cooked.
While your squash is roasting, your marinara sauce is simmering and your eggplant is “sweating”, heat a skillet on the stovetop. Chop the mushrooms into pieces.
Once the skillet is hot, add 1 Tbsp of olive oil and the chopped mushrooms. Cook them down until they brown on both sides. Remove from heat and set aside. Open the can of artichoke hearts, drain the liquid and chop the artichoke hearts into chunks. Set aside.
Your skillet should still be warm from cooking the mushrooms, add 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Once the eggplant has “beaded” moisture and has had any excess liquid dabbed from its surface, add the eggplant and cook on medium heat until the eggplant is browned on both sides. Remove from heat and set aside.
De-stem and chop the basil leaves. Now that the marinara sauce has cooked down, add 1/3 cup of basil to the sauce. Drizzle the sauce with 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the artichoke hearts, cooked mushroom and eggplant to the sauce. Simmer on the stove top over low heat, stirring occasionally.
By this time, your spaghetti squash should be done in the oven and have been set aside. With a fork, “shred” the noodles from the body of the squash, down to the skin. The squash may still be hot, so be careful to use a hot pad to hold the squash. (The great thing about this meal is that you could pre-cook the squash at a different time if you needed, chill it and use it whenever it is convenient to you.)
Place the “noodles” in a colander/strainer over the sink or over a bowl. Using a smaller bowl, press against the squash in the colander to push as much moisture out as possible. You will be shocked at the amount of moisture that drains out. (If the “noodles” are room temp, you can use your hands to make balls of the squash and wring them out in a cheese cloth or linen napkin.) Again, the less moisture remaining in the “noodles”, the more flavor the finished dish will have.
With a peeler, peel strips of zucchini length-wise, rotating around the core until you are down to the “core” housing the seeds. Discard the middle seeded area (this core is bitter). In the heated skillet, add 1 Tbsp of olive oil and the zucchini “fettuccine”. Very quickly you will see the zucchini ribbons “curl up”. Cook them until “al dente”. Do not overcook. Dab the zucchini “fettucine” with some napkins to soak up any excess moisture. Add the zucchini noodles and the squash noodles to the sauce. Stir.
Taste the sauce and add more salt, pepper, red pepper flakes or olive oil to taste. Spoon out a single serving and top with the some chopped basil and cracked pepper. This version is completely vegan and gluten-free.
BUT, for those who love cheese as much as I do, add a sprinkle of shredded parmesan to make your heart pitter-patter. With a spoonful of fresh creamy buratta on top, you’ll have your loved ones recreating the “When Harry Met Sally” restaurant scene. Add a bottle of wine, some gluten-free toasted garlic bread and some dark chocolate for dessert and you’ll “WOW” anyone who’s been invited to your lucky dinner table.
BON APPETIT & Happy Valentine’s to all you lovers from Sirens & Scoundrels!
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Words & Recipe by Sarah Prikryl // Photography by Sarah Prikryl
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