Saturday, November 22, 2014

Come Saturday Morning - Spaghetti Squash with a Roasted Grape Tomato Sauce

I had a lovely work day recently, quite different from my usual routine, and while I like my usual routine, a change now and then is good.  Or so I've been told, because truthfully, I hate change. But this was a once-time-a-year thing, a meeting of Central Region DCF attorneys and we had a really fine class on Baker Acts and Marchman Acts, and a big buffet lunch that was prepared by our regional managing attorney (I love the fact that she can cook and bake and isn't afraid to show it) and then our annual awards and recognition ceremony.  I did not win any awards, but my direct supervisor did and I thought that was really pretty cool.

The meeting took place up in the Metrowest area, and as I was driving home, full of facts and good humor, I realized I could route myself to pass Whole Foods in Bayhill, and if I was going to pass it, I might as well stop in and check the vegetables.  Yes, I wrote that.

There are many people who do all of their food shopping at Whole Foods, and I am not one of them.  Not even close.  I usually go there maybe a few times a year at best, and when I stepped into that Mecca of Mangia, I realized I had not shopped there for about two years.  Think of all the money I saved!

Some people go to art museums to appreciate beauty.  I go to a well stocked, carefully tended market.    I love strolling through the produce department.  This appreciation of fine fennel and gorgeous green peppers may come from the fact that my father-who-did-not-raise-me, Mike Osher, was a produce manager his whole life.  One of my only memories of Mike is a very young me - three or four years old at most - hanging out in the produce store in which he worked.  Later on, when small neighborhood groceries gave way to supermarkets, he managed the produce department at a Waldbaum's in Far Rockaway, or so I've been told.  Mike's oldest son, my oldest brother Larry, was also a produce manager at Wegman's.  Unfortunately, I never got to meet Larry or next oldest brother Fred, or either of my younger sisters (although I have spoken on the phone with my sister Nora) but I think it is now clear that I inherited my love of food from both sides of my family.  Reinforcement of genes, and you get one food-obsessed crazy cat lady.  I'm okay with that, it was the unmanageable curly hair that was the bane of my youthful existence.

I sailed admiringly past the fish counter and the meat counter, noting that Whole Foods does carry real pork belly at a manageable price.  Maybe next time.  Their fish is fresh - really fresh, not defrosted - and beautiful.  And priced into the stratosphere, where I don't even visit, much less reside.  I checked out the olive bar and the cheese counter and cupcakes the size of my head.  I sniffed the fresh coffee.  And I bought, albeit sparingly, some different rices, a small container of smoked whitefish salad, a cute little spaghetti squash, and a very small container of pickings from the salad bar so that I could taste some stuff I've been wanting to try out (or retry, in the case of kale).  The verdict is that quinoa is very cool and I will try cooking it; I still don't get the great public adulation for kale, but at least it doesn't suck; edamame is as great cold in a salad as it is steamed and salted as an appetizer at the sushi place;  and tofu is just meh.  There's got to be a way to get more flavor into it - all those vegetarians can't be wrong about it, and I like the idea of alternate protein sources.

My plan, so much as I had one was to use up some of the vegetables in the refrigerator - grape tomatoes that were left after I prepared the pasta salad with balls, an eggplant that had been waiting patiently to be parm'ed, and the cute little spaghetti squash I picked up at Whole Foods.  Not to suggest that Publix does not stock spaghetti squash, but this one was a good bit smaller than theirs, and I did not want to wrestle with a behemoth spaghetti squash.

I have a great deal of trouble eating pasta.  Actually, I have a great deal of trouble eating most foods, so I am always on the lookout for different ways of getting my nutrition.  I do taste as I cook, but once I do that, I cannot eat anything else.  I am full and will likely stay full until the next day.

But I love good old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs, or with my grandmother's meat sauce, which got me to wondering if spaghetti squash topped with sauce might not go down easier (and stay down longer) than my favorite Barilla pasta.  For me, it's not about the calories, but this would certainly cut some carbs for those who are trying to do so.

Now, about those lovely grape tomatoes - first I thought about preparing a sauté with pesto, but I still had several different vegetable dishes in the fridge, so I switched gears and decided to try a recipe for a fresh grape tomato pasta sauce.  Found it on a food blog, tweaked it a bare trifle and when I tasted the finished product, I almost swooned.

First make the sauce.  I actually did this the day before, because the spaghetti squash gets cooked in the smaller crockpot, and that was being occupied by an eggplant for most of the afternoon.

Roasted Grape Tomato Sauce

2 1/2 pints of grape tomatoes (about 5 cups) - for the best flavor, mix the colors - I used red and orange grape tomatoes
5 cloves of fresh garlic, smashed and peeled
Freshly ground Himalayan pink salt, to taste
Freshly ground mixed peppercorns, to taste
a pinch of sugar (optional)
2 tablespoon of garlic olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh basil, or basil paste (I use Gourmet Garden brand)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the tomatoes in a single layer in a 9 x 13 aluminum baking pan.  Tuck the pieces of garlic between the tomatoes.  Drizzle everything with the olive oil, and add some salt and pepper, and the pinch of sugar.  Place into the preheated oven and roast for 45 minutes.  The tomatoes should have released a good part of their juices and appear somewhat wrinkled but not dried out.  Let them cool for about 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully pour everything into a food processor fitted with the chopping blade.  Add the basil or basil paste, cover, and turn on the processor.  Let it run until the consistency suits you - and I agree with Beth, the food blogger who created the original recipe, that smooth is best.  Taste the sauce and prepare to swoon.  Add a little more salt and pepper, as needed.  This sauce is so light and fresh-tasting, it is perfect for the delicate spaghetti squash.

Now take your cute little spaghetti squash and pierce it a few times with a sharp, thin knife.  Spray the inside of the crockpot with no-stick spray.  Place the squash into the crockpot, and add a cup or two of water.  Cover and cook on high for 3 hours, until the squash is quite soft.

Carefully remove the squash from the crock, and let it cool a bit before trying to handle it.  Then cut it down the center, and remove the seeds.  Finally, with a regular dinner fork, begin scraping at the cooked flesh.  You will see the squash form strands as you scrape.  Continue until all of the squash has been removed from the shell.  Serve the spaghetti squash with butter or a touch of olive oil and salt, or any kind of pasta sauce, homemade like this one, or a good quality jarred sauce.

A funny thing happened on the way to the final saucing - when I cut the squash open, I got an unexpected and unwelcome surprise:

As you can see, about half of the seeds have sprouted.  I tasted one, and it was bitter, so along with the seeds, I separated them out from the flesh of the squash and discarded them before scraping out the strands.

Unfortunately, the spaghetti strands were also quite bitter, so I spread the squash out on some foil laid on the counter, drizzled a tiny bit of olive oil over, and then seasoned with salt, pepper, and sugar, using small amounts and tasting as I went along. I also added some parmesan cheese, but I think I should have skipped that step.  The seasoning did improve the taste and counteracted some, but not all, of the bitterness.

Serving this with the roasted grape tomato sauce also helped, because of the tomato's natural sweetness, but I am convinced that the sprouting seeds caused the squash to become unpleasantly bitter.  Since I cooked it whole, I had no way of knowing about the seeds until it was too late, and I really don't know if removing the seeds and sprouts before cooking would have made a difference.

In the end, it was just okay.  Cooked in the crockpot, the strands came out beautiful and very spaghetti-like, and the sauce was awesome, but that bitter undertaste was off-putting.  I will have to try again with another squash and hope there are no sprouts lurking within.

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