Ratatouille with Coconut Curry Sauce

I feel bad calling myself a cooking enthusiast since I had not even heard of ratatouille until I saw the Disney movie. After seeing a rat prepare it, I thought, “I could do that.”

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But then, a lot of time went by. (A LOT of time. I just checked, and that movie was released in 2007 – yikes!)

So seven years later, I got my act together and made a decision to prepare this undoubtedly delicious meal for my in-laws, who were visiting from New York. I learned the basic gist of the recipe, and I was only feeling a little apprehensive about being able to pull it off.

But then, I was totally sidelined. The power of suggestion is absurdly effective. One second, I am happily going about my day thinking about trees and flowers (not really, just trying to make a point here), and the next, I see a commercial for pizza and suddenly, that is ALL I WANT.

As I was preparing for ratatouille-making, a friend happened to mention having had a delicious coconut curry dish at lunch.

Well. I’ll be damned. I LOVE coconut curry.

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So, since I was already feeling overwhelmed by the recipe, I made an effortless decision to swap out the sauce for a coconut curry tomato sauce.

I’ll tell you – it was an amazing decision. This dish does not disappoint, and was a hit with my in-laws (at least that’s what they told me) 🙂

Quick Disclaimer: If you don’t own a mandolin, this recipe is still possible to make – it just might drive you crazy. Make sure you have a sharp knife, at the very least!

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What You Need for the Ratatouille:

  • 1 medium zucchini squash, ends cut off
  • 1 medium summer squash, ends cut off
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 each red bell pepper, green bell pepper and yellow bell pepper, tops cut off and de-seeded but still bell-shaped
  • 2 cups dry Jasmine or white rice

What You Need for the Coconut Curry Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 jalepeno, minced (seeded if desired)
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced (powdered ginger will also work fine)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes and their juices (this is equal to 3 1/2 cups diced tomatoes if you wish to stay away from canned foods)
  • 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

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What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400F

In a large wok or skillet, pour in the olive oil and lightly simmer the onion, garlic, jalepeno and fresh ginger until soft. (If you only have powdered ginger, add it later).

Add the tomatoes and curry powder (also add ginger powder if using).  Turn heat up to bring to a slight boil and stir well.

Add the coconut milk and sugar, stirring well. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.

Set aside, but keep warm on low heat.

Using a mandolin, thinly slice all of your vegetables. As I said, if you don’t have a mandolin, you can get away with cutting everything by hand. Try to make very thinly-sliced pieces. Thicker pieces really only impact how long the dish will take to cook.

Layer the vegetables in alternating order along the bottom of a large baking dish or dutch oven. Each time you complete a layer, spoon about 1 cup of the still-hot coconut curry tomato sauce over the veggies.

Continue layering and alternately pouring with sauce until the veggies have been used up. Depending on the size of your baking dish, you may find you have vegetables left over. This is ok! They make great snacks, after all!

Pour remaining sauce over the top, gently poking apart the vegetables to let it seep through.

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Cover, and place the whole concoction into the oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened and are easily pierced with a fork. You may find it takes slightly longer depending, again, on the size of your baking dish and thickness of your layers.

While the dish is baking, cook your rice according to package directions.

When everything is ready, serve the ratatouille over the rice and enjoy! It’s where French cuisine meets Indian cuisine, right? Bon’ appetite!

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Pro Tip: If you have leftovers and want to re-purpose the meal to try and pull a fast one on your family, simply pulse the ratatouille (without the rice) in a food processor with a small amount of vegetable broth to turn it into soup! Make it as chunky or pureed as you desire, and add the rice after for some additional texture.

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Carnival Squash Stuffed with Quinoa and Sugar-Baked Apples

Ok. I know I have some explaining to do.

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I’m making a somewhat sheepish return to this blog with my tail between my legs; this newest post clouded by the undeniable fact that it has been LITERALLY MONTHS since my last post, which is not only unfair to those who actually read and like my blog (thank you!) but is also really sad because I’m letting the entire fall season virtually pass by without posting any of the great fall vegetable recipes that make this time of year a true delight.

I’m sorry. I have no excuse. You should know that I have still been cooking, so you will finally get to take part in that experience. I hope these next recipes will be at least marginally useful to you, even though fall is half over.

Some exciting news though! It was my birthday the other day, which means I’ve been blogging steadily (don’t say it) for about a year! I find this to be among my top accomplishments as a person, and to celebrate, I bestow upon you this quintessentially fall dish, which I owe to the wonderful people at Barker’s Farm in Stratham, NH for hooking me up with some of the coolest must-have squashes of the season (You know how I feel about squashes – **swoon**)

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What You Need:

  • Two medium or large carnival squashes (or four smaller ones if you’re feeding several people or prefer smaller portions) If you don’t have or can’t find a carnival squash, acorn squash is the most similar, and delicata would also be delicious.
  • 2 medium or large apples, any type (I used Cortland) peeled and cut into apple pie-type chunks
  • 1 tbsp butter, very soft or melted
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 habanero or hot pepper of choice, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 cup dry quinoa, cooked according to package directions
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese of your choice (I used goat cheese because that is what we had in the fridge)

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What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400F

Cut the squash lengthwise from stem to bottom and scoop out the seeded insides.

Lightly brush the squash’s insides with butter, lay skin-side-down on a foil-covered baking sheet, and place in the oven to bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until it appears to be caramelizing and easily lets a fork through.

While the squash is baking, cook the quinoa.

Squash (12)While the quinoa is cooking, place the garlic, onion and hot pepper in a frying pan over low-medium heat with 1 tbsp oil.

When they become soft and translucent, add the apple pieces and stir until well-mixed.

Add the brown sugar and chili powder, salt and pepper and continue stirring until the apples become warm and juicy (but still maintain their shape and don’t get mushy) and are well-mixed with the sugar and spices.

Once the quinoa is cooked, add it to the apple mixture in spoonfuls to gauge how much you need to make a nice balanced mix of quinoa and apple mixture. I found 2 cups of quinoa was enough to create a decent amount for stuffing the squash.

When the squash has cooked, place them skin-side-down in a baking dish.

Gently scoop the apple and quinoa mixture into each squash.

Sprinkle your cheese of choice over the top of each (optional) and place back in the oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. (If you choose not to use cheese you can skip this step. It’s plenty hot at this point!)

Pro Tip: Add shredded chicken instead of or in addition to the quinoa to make it a non-vegetarian dish. If you’re a fan of raisins (I’m not), sprinkle some into the apple mixture while it’s cooking to add a new texture and flavor.

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Healthy and Easy Crustless Summer Vegetable Quiche

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I have never been so determined to make a dinner from scratch as I was when I forged ahead and baked this quiche, even though I didn’t start it until 8pm on a work night, knowing full well it wouldn’t be ready to eat until at least 9:30pm; and that’s if everything went smoothly. (It did).

Perhaps a saner person would have looked at the clock and resigned themselves to leftover Annie’s Mac and Cheese, or even a fresh salad, but I would not give up the dream of quiche. It came out of the oven so late that Mike didn’t even eat it (he had already eaten the mac and cheese and a fresh salad with toast on the side, like a smart thinker).

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But I made sure to ooo and ahhh over this quiche as I helped myself to not one but THREE (small) servings, trying to savor it as the clocked ticked rapidly toward 10pm and my bedtime loomed near. I try not to eat close to going to bed, but quiche night was an exception.

It’s good. Good enough to wait well into the night for, and good enough to risk going to bed with a quiche hangover. I also need to note that the reason it didn’t maintain it’s pie-slice shape in the photos was because I insisted on eating it within a few seconds of taking it out of the oven. Let this thing cool – it’s worth it!

What You Need:

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  • 1/2 of a large yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 of a green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 jalapeno or habenero pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chives, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup very finely chopped kale (spinach would work well too!)
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup almond milk (or any other milk of your choosing)
  • 1 cup shredded muenster cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6-8 very thin slices of zucchini
  • 6-8 very thin slices of tomato

Quiche (4)What You Do:

Preheat your oven to 375F.

In a lightly oiled medium skillet, heat the garlic and onion on medium heat until the onion becomes soft and translucent.

Add the jalapeno or habenero, and bell pepper, and chives, and stir.

Add the broccoli florets and stir well to combine with the onion mixture. Add a tablespoon of water if necessary to keep the pan moist, and cover, cooking on low-medium until the broccoli has reduced, about 7 minutes.

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While the broccoli mixture is cooking up, grab a small mixing bowl and combine the eggs, milk, cheeses, mustard, black pepper and salt, stirring well.

Set aside.

Before taking the broccoli mixture off the heat, add the kale and stir well.

Pack the broccoli mixture into a well-greased pie dish.

Pour the egg mixture over the broccoli filling, using a fork to gently nudge the broccoli around to let the egg mixture seep through to the sides and bottom of the pie dish. (There should still be a healthy amount of egg mixture over the top of the dish.)

In any pattern you like, place the zucchini and tomato slices around the top of the quiche. Make a happy face if you want!

Place the pie dish in the oven for about 40 minutes (check after 20-30 though – you want the egg cooked through and the top to be slightly browned and crispy but not burned, obviously).

Let cool for a few minutes before delving in, if for no other reason than to keep it in pie-slice shape 🙂

Enjoy!

Pro Tip: Have it for breakfast! Experiment with different cheeses too – I think Parmesan or feta would be absolutely delish.

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Spanish Rice Baked Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes

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Do you KNOW how many recipes there are in the world for stuffed tomatoes where the stuffing is nothing more than breadcrumbs and some salt and pepper? I’m sure it’s delicious, really. You could put bread product in basically any food and I’d eat it for days. But I feel like I couldn’t quite get away with serving mostly breadcrumbs to Mike for dinner.

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Besides – there are so many awesome ways to stuff a tomato, right? I was going to do quinoa and kale for this recipe, but got to thinking about other grains and other dishes and remembered suddenly how much I loved Spanish Rice when my mother would make it when I was a kid. (If my mother is reading this, I want to be candid that I do realize I could be remembering this incorrectly and perhaps I did not love it as a kid, but I certainly consider it a food that I recall eating as a kid and enjoy eating today. So same thing, right?)

I also wanted to share this adorable farm stand that I discovered while running to work one day. (These are the perks of not driving – I tend to pay more attention to what’s going on around me). Check this out:

 

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This person keeps a little bucket near the veggies for your money and it’s completely an honors-system operation. I love it. So I got a few of the tomatoes for this meal from this little stop on my way home.

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This dish is super yummy and has the added benefit of providing probably all the lycopenes a person needs for a successful week! The rice you use is completely up to you. I used Jasmine because as I have mentioned it is by far my favorite type of rice, but I imagine a wild or brown rice would also be spectacular in this dish.

What You Need:

  • 5-7 medium red tomatoes or heirloom tomatoes if you can get your hands on them
  • 1 small onion, chopped OR 1/2 of a medium-large onion, chopped
  • 2 small garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 1 small or 1/2 of a large red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1-8oz can diced tomatoes in their juices
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tsp cilantro (finely chopped fresh or ground)
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/8 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

What You Do:

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Bring the vegetable broth to boiling in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the rice. Cover and let simmer for 10-15 minutes or until liquid is gone and rice is cooked.

While the rice is cooking, heat a 2 tsp olive oil in a medium skillet and add the chopped onion, garlic, jalapeno (if using) and bell peppers. Stuffed Tomatoes (2)

Let simmer, stirring frequently, until softened and cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Take your tomatoes and using a small paring knife, slice off just the very top to remove the stem area.

Cut in a circle around the perimeter of the inside of the tomato, basically hulling out the middle stem part and goopy insides, being careful not to slice into the body of the tomato or through the bottom.

Using a spoon, scoop out the insides and carefully clean around the inside to open up a nice space for filling, still being careful not to cut into or damage the body of the tomato.

Arrange the hollowed-out tomatoes in a large baking dish with a small amount (1/4 cup) of water in the bottom.

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Combine the onion mixture with the rice mixture, and add the diced tomatoes and chopped cilantro, and stir up well to make the stuffing. Add salt and pepper and mix again.

Using a tablespoon, scoop the stuffing into the hollowed-out insides of each tomato, packing it down and letting extra stuffing flow out the top of the tomatoes.

Combing the panko breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan cheese and sprinkle over each tomato.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are pinched and the breadcrumbs begin to brown.

Add more water to the bottom of the baking dish if necessary after about 20 minutes.

Enjoy!!

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Pro Tip: As noted above, I think this would be marvelous with another rice such as wild or brown! Also, in a pinch you can use salsa instead of diced tomatoes and just add less garlic and probably nix the cilantro.

Zucchini, Tomato and Corn Gratin

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Ah zucchini.

I like squash a lot. I really do. But I’m at that point in the summer when, to be honest, the level of squash present in my life is getting to be slightly overwhelming. Not only am I harvesting a small bumper crop in my backyard, but I for some reason keep thinking that purchasing additional summer squash at the farmer’s market is a good idea.

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One of my zucchini plants, going strong.

So the chain of events is as follows: Buy fresh squash at the FM –> feel compelled to use said fresh squash before it goes bad  –> neglect picking the actively-growing squash in my garden –> end up with giant backyard squash.

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This isn’t even the biggest one. My latest monster creation is at LEAST 3 Hershey’s bars long, and probably half of one in width.

So Mike has been subjected to an onslaught of zucchini recipes lately, which have included zucchini bread, zucchini pizza boats, and zucchini-topped pizza, and this is basically fine as he doesn’t mind squash. (But he might after this summer!) I’m still fine with it too, but the ongoing challenge is cooking it in different ways so we don’t get sick of it.

You don’t have to love squash to like this dish, though. It is really very good. This recipe post reflects a few changes that I would most certainly employ if I cook this again, which I will, so don’t lose faith in me if you feel the photos don’t quite do it justice.

The farmer’s market/my garden ingredients used in this meal are:

  • Zucchini and Summer Squash
  • Corn on the cob
  • Onion
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic

What You Need:

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  • About a pound of zucchini and summer squash sliced into thin rounds (I used a mandolin for this)
  • 1 1/2 cups panko or your favorite bread ground up to make breadcrumbs
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 corn on the cob, with corn sliced off the cob
  • 1 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced thin (I also used a mandolin for this)
  • Salt
  • Olive or coconut oil
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

 

What You Do:

The Squash

Preheat oven to 350F

Here’s an important step you should never, ever ignore when cooking squash, but I always do anyways. Salt your squash to help remove moisture. This will help it cook better and faster, and overall just taste better.

So, toss your squash rounds with 1-2 tsp salt and set aside in a colander to let it drain (about 10 minutes).

After, lay the slices out on a VERY LIGHTLY oiled baking sheet, and place in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until the slices look slightly translucent and soft.

Leave the oven on since the whole dish needs about 10 minutes in there at the end.

The Filling

Warm a tbsp of olive or coconut oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When hot, place onion slices in and cover, letting the onions caramelize. Remove them when they smell sweet and look translucent with just a touch of brown.

Gently toss your corn with a tiny bit of salt, black pepper and olive or coconut oil, and mix with the caramelized onions.

The Topping

Melt the 2 tbsp of butter over low heat.

In a small bowl, mix your grated cheese and panko, adding a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

Pour the melted butter into the panko mixture, add the minced garlic and stir it up.

The Finale

Line a baking dish with the cooked squash and raw tomato slices, alternating as you go. After you have one layer down, sprinkle some of your onion and corn mixture over it.

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Add more squash and tomato slices, covering them with onions and corn each time you have a new layer, until both toppings are gone.

Top the entire dish with the panko mix.

Place in the oven for 10 minutes or until the topping starts to brown and the tomato juices are bubbling. Then – enjoy!

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Pro-Tip: I would recommend making this a wild rice gratin to replace the panko and make it a gluten-free meal. Cook up some wild rice, mix it with an egg and the onions and corn and cheese. Put it on the bottom of the pan and line the tomato and squash on top. Sprinkle with some additional cheese. There ya go!

Healthy and Easy Quinoa Stuffed Poblano Peppers

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Well, life got in the way of cooking for awhile but I’m back! I’ve been training pretty hard for my 20 mile race (which was May 29), so our dinners were mostly pasta, pizza, tacos or pb&j, and about as simplified as possible so I could go to bed at a reasonable hour. But I’m happy to report I beat my 2013 finish by 12 minutes and ran it 40 seconds faster per mile. It was such a good feeling when I finished, especially because the weather was terrible all day – just super rainy and cold. What a relief to be done!

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Approaching the finish line!

I feel like I owe some of my success to a massive carbo-load the night before the race. I inhaled more bread and pretzel in one sitting than ever before and it was really fun! But I was craving a real, home-cooked and healthy meal by the time my body was done recovering from the race, so I made the best recipe I could think of to deliver on all those cravings with as minimal time on my feet in the kitchen as possible.

That’s how we ended up with quinoa stuffed poblano peppers. I love this dish because it’s really easy and always delicious, and poblanos have a great taste – sweet with a little spicy kick.

 

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I used 4 medium-sized poblano peppers. One stuffed pepper is more than enough for a single serving meal – even for Mike – and the leftovers are just as tasty reheated a day (or two or three!) after.

Preheat oven to 375F

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What You Need

  • Poblano peppers (any number you want/need)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes, drained of oil and chopped
  • 1 jar tomato sauce (I made my own tomato sauce using this recipe)
  • About 1 cup Parmesan cheese

What You Do

Slice off the stem end of the poblanos, being careful not to take off too much of the pepper itself. Empty out the insides and seeds using your fingers.

Place the poblanos on a sheetpan lined with parchment paper and bake them in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the skin starts to pinch. (Leave the oven on when the peppers are done – you need to bake them again at the same temperature once they’re stuffed)

While the peppers are baking, cook your quinoa according to package directions. I boiled 2 cups of water and added one cup of quinoa, and simmered, covered, until the water was gone. Obviously if you’re stuffing more than 4 peppers, you might want to make more quinoa.

While the quinoa is cooking, put a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and heat the onions, jalapeno and garlic for about 5 minutes or until the onions become translucent and soft.

Stir the onion mixture into the quinoa until combined. Peppers

In a large bowl, mix the sun-dried tomatoes with the tomato sauce.

Stuff your slightly baked peppers with the quinoa mixture. Lay extra quinoa on the bottom of the baking dish like a bed for the peppers. Place the stuffed peppers on their bed and cover with tomato sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Bake at 375F for about 20 minutes.

Serve with additional cheese on top if you want. I love my cheese!

 

Pro Tip: You can really stuff quite a bit of the quinoa mixture into these peppers! Gently tap the bottom end of the pepper on the palm of your hand or a dish to pack down the quinoa. Once you near the top of the pepper with stuffing, push the quinoa down with your spoon for more room.

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Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Tomato Sauce

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You will never need to eat pasta again. Ever.

I’m serious. And I’m Italian. So this goes against everything my people believe but I’m sticking to it.

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When I would see recipes for spaghetti squash, I tossed them aside, figuring it was just a weird stringy food that could never take the place of my beloved whole wheat spaghetti. But I came across a large spaghetti squash at a farmer’s market this winter and talked to the farmer about it. He couldn’t believe I’d never made one before.

When people who grow food for a living tell me that I “have to try” something, I don’t take it lightly. I took that sucker home, and cooked it up following his (suspiciously simple) directions.

Well first of all, I felt like a food genius. I brought Mike in to see the cooked squash in action.

“Check this out!” I told him, gently plying away the spaghetti-like layers of sweet smelling squash with a fork. I know he was impressed. Who wouldn’t be?

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And second of all, it isn’t some weird stringy food. It’s great. Drenched in homemade tomato sauce, it’s almost like eating actual spaghetti, except with fewer calories and carbs. And one spaghetti squash makes quite a bit of food, and is one of those leftovers that makes the early part of my workday a time where I am simply waiting to eat.

Preheat oven to 450F

What You Need:

  • A spaghetti squash (1-2 pounds)
  • Tomato sauce. For a great homemade recipe that you can make simultaneously with the squash (efficiency!!!!) use this recipe.

What You Do:

Halve the spaghetti squash lengthwise from the stem to the bottom. Scoop out the seeds and extra stuff.

Place the halves insides down on a baking sheet (you can put foil under them if you want to make the cleanup easier).

**You do not need to use any oil! The squash produces liquid while it bakes and will not stick.**

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the skin starts to pucker and brown. You will also see liquid start to seep out around the base of the squash. You may also see the juices start to caramelize around the base of the squash – this is totally ok and really enhances the flavor. But that also means it’s time to take it out of the oven.

With a fork, gently separate the stringy squash layers from the skin and scoop onto your plate or into a bowl.

Cover in tomato sauce and freshly shredded Parmesan and enjoy!

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Pro Tip: You can save the skins and reuse them for in a homemade vegetable broth! Simply freeze them in a large bag with other vegetable cooking scraps until you need to make your broth!