This week, fresh from the CSA was a large beautiful spaghetti squash. I wanted to do something creative with it besides the usual, cook, scrape out of shell, season and serve. I decided it could be used to add flavor and texture to an Italian sauce.
I cut the squash in half lengthwise, scraped the seeds out, wrapped it in plastic and microwaved each half, separately until cooked. (about 5 min ea on my microwave).
Meanwhile, I browned a pound of ground beef in a very hot pan. I say very hot because a nice brown crust is critical! To this I added chopped shallots, garlic, and a couple finely diced turnips (turnips are not required, but they too had come in the CSA.)
Vegetarian Note: An excellent substitute for the ground beef would be cooked wheat berries or brown rice. They give the texture of ground meat and add a toasted nutty flavor. They do, however, need to be cooked ahead.
Once this mixture was all cooked, and seasoned well with salt and pepper, I added Italian seasoning, and a large can of crushed tomatoes. I brought this to a simmer and turned to the spaghetti squash.
The spaghetti squash, when cooked, comes out of the shell in beautiful almost uniform strands. I scraped them out with a fork and they all went into the sauce. As expected, it made the sauce thick and heavy and yet with a brighter flavor and more satisfying texture than before.
At this point, I could have simply spooned this delicious sauce over pasta or bread and enjoyed it. In fact, I will do exactly that with the leftover sauce.
There was a better opportunity however! This was an epic sauce and deserved a more dramatic presentation. I happened to have lasagna noodles, ricotta cheese, and shredded mozzarella on hand, and I thought, Lasagna would be nice, but so much work!
And here is the “lazy man” part.
I took a heavy cake pan and spread the meat sauce almost to the top.
Over that I spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese, and topped that with a sprinkling of mozzarella.
The noodles were no-boil lasagna noodles, but they are designed to sit in a big moist lasagna and bake for an hour, which would not be necessary here, so I took the risk, and boiled the no-boil noodles. I am pleased to say this does not transport you to another dimension, or blow anything up.
I spread a single layer of noodles over the top and if there had been parmesan cheese in my fridge I would have grated some of that, but alas, mozz would have to do. No layers, no mixing the cheeses with herbs, just three simple layers, sauce, cheese, noodles.
I covered it with foil and baked it at 400 for 10 minutes, then removed the foil for 5 more minutes. Everything was cooked so all I really needed to do was melt the cheese and get it all bubbly.
The result was amazing! Most lasagna recipes mix the cheeses with beaten eggs and the result is spongy. While this may be the classic lasagna, I find kids, even teenage kids don’t like spongy. They like melty! Simply spreading a thin layer of ricotta topped with a sprinkling of mozzarella created “melty” which acted almost like a sauce of its own between the noodles and the meat mixture.
The texture of the spaghetti squash strands combined with the texture of the ground beef was a great combination. The meal was a hit, it was relatively healthful, and gone in one sitting!