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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Easy and Low Cal "Spaghetti" Dinner

Today I have to share one of my favorite recipes of late.  If you are a pasta fiend and really enjoy a good marinara sauce, this is going to be right up your alley; especially, for my gluten intolerant friends.

Have you all heard of spaghetti squash?  Yes, it’s a squash, but it’s so named because when cooked, its flesh shreds into noodle-like strands.  Plus, it has a very mild flavor and easily takes on the taste of your favorite sauce.  Plus, for those watching their calorie intake, it's only 42 calories per cup!

What’s more, this recipe is about the easiest one you could find as long as you have a crockpot (and even if you don't).  Here are the ingredients…Ready?

1 Spaghetti Squash
1 Jar of your favorite marinara

That’s it.  If you’re watching calories, make sure you read the labels on the marinara you’re using.  Tomato sauces are traditionally pretty low in calories and extremely good for you in the vitamin department but some variations can sneak in a lot of extra calories with cheese, or meats.  If you like a sweeter sauce, I recommend one of Del Monte's varieties, which is very inexpensive and have about 60 calories per 1/2 cup serving.

This summer I made an obscene amount of marinara from scratch due to my very generous mother-in-law and her even more generous tomato plants.  Making marinara from scratch is easy, though time consuming and you can control the calories, ingredients and taste yourself.  But that's a topic for another blog entry.  Getting back to the squash...

When choosing your spaghetti squash, keep in mind the size of your crockpot.  I have a nice big oval shaped one that’s fairly deep.  If yours is small, choose a very small squash.  I supposed you could also do this recipe in a pan in the oven at 325 for an hour to an hour and half, depending on squash size.

To get started, slice your spaghetti squash in half from stem to stern (the long way).  I have to say, this is the hardest part of the recipe.  The suckers are pretty hard and you need a good knife as well as some strength.  Be very, very careful not to slice off an extremity when try to slice your way through the thing. 

You will need to scrape out the seeds and stringy stuff in the centers of each half.  Don’t worry that it smells distinctly like pumpkin.  I promise it does not taste like it.  I have been tempted, however, to see if the seeds would be as tasty toasted as pumpkin seeds are.

Once your squash is sliced in half and cleaned out, set each half in the crock pot with the scooped-out center up.  Pour your marinara in each side.  Put the lid on the crock pot; set it for four, six or eight hours, depending on the time frame you have for letting it cook, and walk away.  Yes, I said walk away.  That’s it. There's no need to add water.  The squash will roast instead of steam bringing about a richer flavor in the sauce and "noodles".

When you take the lid off the crock pot at the end of the cooking time, you will have a yummy cooked squash that has been braised with delicious marinara for hours.  To serve, simply take a fork and scoop out your desired quantity.  It really does end up looking like spaghetti (hence the name, I guess).  Top with a moderate amount of Parmesan cheese to add tanginess and saltiness (you don’t want to ruin the low cals by over doing it on the cheese).  Enjoy.

One other word of warning: do not over cook the squash.  It will get mushy and that's just not yummy.  If you set your crockpot for six hours, make sure you're there at the end to turn it off and stop the cooking cycle.  

If you give it a try, please let me know.  I’d love to find out if you like it as well as we do. 

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