Cheesy Spaghetti Squash Bake

I love spaghetti squash. It’s like you’re eating a bowlof comforting carb-loaded noodles,  when actually it’s a vegetable!  But in case you haven’t hung out with the gourd lately, spaghetti squash doesn’t really taste like much. Or anything at all.

Determined to enliven a healthy, albeit boring, bowl of spaghetti squash, I stumbled across this recipe from Once Upon a Chef and tried it out on two unsuspecting dinner guests. Here’s my take on it – which was a success considering that only 2 servings remained at the end of dinner.

Ingredients

1 large spaghetti squash
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 cups jarred marinara sauce – pick one with bold flavor
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
8 oz fresh spinach
1 TBS Italian seasoning blend
3 TBS chopped fresh basil
1 cup shredded cheeses  (Mozzarellla, Asiago and/or Parmesan)
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs – cuz they’re the best kind
Salt
Black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions

1. Fill a large pot with about 2 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Place spaghetti squash in pot, cover with lid and simmer, turning once, for about 30 -40 minutes, or until squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. While it’s cooling, preheat oven to 425 degrees.

TIP:  For those impatient cooks, you can also just slice the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, cover with Saran Wrap and microwave each half– cut side up– for 6-7 minutes each. )

2. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. It will be hot! Use a fork to pull out the flesh,  shredding and separating the strands like noodles  (it is best to go from side to side, rather than lengthwise). Place strands in large bowl.

3. Add the olive oil, marinara sauce, 1 TBS salt, 2 tsp pepper, Italian seasoning and basil to bowl. Toss gently until squash is well coated with sauce and seasonings. You’ll have to pull the strands apart to get sauce inside. This is your noodle mixture.

4. Transfer half of the noodle mixture to a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Layer the spinach, then mushrooms and then half of the cheese. Top with remaining noodle mixture. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over top. Sprinkle the panko breadcrumbs evenly over top of cheese. Top with fresh Parmesan. TIP: Your layers from the bottom up will be noodles/veggies/cheese/noodles/cheese/panko/Parmesan.

5. Place pan on a cookie sheet to catch drips, and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until top is golden and sauce is boiling. Let sit ~20 minutes before serving. Serve with additional grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

For a full-on fall feast, follow the squash bake with this dark Gingerbread cake. One of my dinner guests brought this and I most certainly indulged in 3 squares of  spicy warmth. Don’t be fooled by its basic appearance; this cake packs a wallop of comforting flavor. The chef-ette recommends omitting the cloves, and skipped any toppings.

Growing up we slathered hot gingerbread with Cool Whip so that it melted and slid off the side. This time I let a pat of butter sit and melt on the top for a cold, salty contrast. Other ideas: whipped cream, lemon glaze, cream cheese, powdered sugar…

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