Grow and eat: Spaghetti squash a healthy alternative

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 29, 2013

SALISBURY — Spaghetti squash has been a great hit among gardeners and those with dietary restraints. Just like the name says, spaghetti squash produces a fruit, and when it is cooked and shredded, the meat looks like spaghetti noodles.
Spaghetti squash is considered a winter squash and is usually placed near acorn and butternut squash in stores. There has been some recent research in ornamental spaghetti squash and it has produced some excellent cultivars and gorgeous colors for fall decoration. Who wouldn’t like to use something that you can decorate with and eat?
To grow your own spaghetti squash, select a site with at least six hours of sun. Trying to grow squash with anything less than six will not produce enough or decent-quality fruit. Once you have selected a site, be sure to get a soil sample and make all of the necessary amendments.
If you have planted the site in squash, melons or cucumbers, select another site since disease and pests will probably be high in those areas. As always, practice crop rotation and field sanitation (removing previous growing season’s debris) to reduce disease and pest problems. Once you have the perfect spot, choose which spaghetti squash variety is right for your needs. Many of the varieties are striped, with greens and pale yellows, golds, orange and the size can vary. If you would like more information on growing your own spaghetti squash, contact your local Cooperative Extension agent at 704-216-8970.
Spaghetti squash is sometimes classified as a winter squash due to its hard, inedible skin. When cooked, the spaghetti squash has a mild, nutlike flavor. Although not as high in beta-carotene as other deep orange-fleshed winter squashes, spaghetti squash does have a rather impressive nutrient-dense profile. One cup of cooked spaghetti squash has 42 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrates. Spaghetti squash has less than a gram of fat, 2 grams of dietary fiber and 28 milligrams of sodium and is a good source of potassium, manganese and vitamin C.
Select a squash that has complete creamy-yellow skin; green tinges or spots indicate that the squash was picked before it was mature. The skin should be hard, smooth and free of bruises or damaged spots. Uncut spaghetti squash can be stored at room temperature for up to three weeks.
Before preparing, the squash needs to be rinsed; if dirt is present, remove it with a brush. Spaghetti squash can be cooked whole or cut in half lengthwise before cooking. Cutting lengthwise instead of crosswise will ensure that you end up with longer strands of squash. There are many way to prepare spaghetti squash, but regardless of how you choose to cook yours, avoid overcooking because this causes the squash to become watery and lose its sweetness.
One method of cooking spaghetti squash is to cut the squash in half vertically and remove the seeds before cooking. Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes or until you can pierce the skin of the squash easily with a fork. Cool slightly and then remove the flesh with a fork.
Use the same method for the microwave, placing the spaghetti squash in a covered microwave-safe dish. Microwave the squash half on high for 6 to 8 minutes or until fork tender. Time for cooking in the microwave depends on size of the squash and operating wattage of the microwave oven.
Once cooked, use the strands of spaghetti squash as you would pasta. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
• Toss the cooked spaghetti squash with leftover ham, chicken or fish. Add your favorite cheese sauce and bake until bubbly and brown.
• Saut