Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Thursday, August 11

Gapers Block

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It was time to do something about the ever-expanding collection of squash. Call it an autumn abundance: the butternut, dumplings, delicata, acorns, and spaghetti squash were getting restless.

After many different uses, I decided it was time to pair the spaghetti squash with a familiar friend, Mom's Meat Sauce. The meal was set. After discussing it with my roommate, who purchased the squash for me, I was off to the races.

To begin, I decided to put our breadmaker to use. It was a hand-me-down from my roommate's grandmother, probably used once at most. I studied the instructions, careful to read all the tips and notes; the process consisted of measuring the warm tap water, pouring it into the breadmaker, putting the bread mix in gently, then making a shallow well for the yeast. That's it: three simple steps to golden brown Parmesan Cheese Bread.

I set the timer after all the ingredients were in place, careful not to jostle anything around.  When using the timer, the yeast needs to remain dry until the process begins. I chose to put the ingredients in the night before -- the next morning, as I came upstairs to grab breakfast, the smell of fresh bread greeted me before I made it over to the breadmaker. The cheesy loaf was perfect; the lightly golden brown crust looked as it should, and I removed it from the breadmaker to cool for a little while before wrapping it up for later.

Then I was ready for the main dish.

I've made spaghetti squash many times before. Usually, you can whip up a simple marinara with some canned tomatoes, sautéed veggies, lots of garlic, and seasonings to taste. This time, I decided to pair it with Mom's sauce.

Mom's Meat Sauce

6 to 8 cans tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
ground beef/ground chuck
parmesan cheese
onion powder
salt and pepper
pinch of sugar

Brown the ground beef (or ground chuck, whichever you prefer). Drain off the fat; place the meat into a large pot with tomato sauce and paste; season with onion powder, salt and pepper. Use a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity. Lastly, throw a few spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese into the mix.

When I was little, I used to eat around the meat. Then, as I grew older, I began to appreciate the sauce more and more. Now, when Mom makes pasta sauce, she reserves enough to fit a Tupperware and freezes it for me to grab at a later date. I'd been down to visit recently and picked up another serving. We thawed the sauce during the day so it'd be ready to top the squash when I returned home.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise -- it's a bit of a pain, but it has to be done. I haven't yet mastered this skill, and I always scare myself during the process. Many large knives later, the squash battle is over. Now, it's time to roast.

Put the squash on a baking sheet cut side down and roast in a 375° oven for about 30 to 45 minutes. Basically, the squash is done when you can poke the insides gently with no resistance.  Sometimes it needs a few extra minutes, but it's fairly easy to tell when it's ready.

After letting the squash cool for a little while, turn the halves over and scrape the "spaghetti" strands with a fork. Those suckers can get nice and hot -- sometimes an oven mitt comes in handy for holding the squash while you remove all the strands. It's amazing how much spaghetti one of these squash can produce.

In a baking dish, layer sauce and spaghetti squash, starting with a small cupful of sauce, followed by some spaghetti, then sauce and so forth, making sure that the top is covered with the last of the sauce. Spread some shredded mozzarella and grated fresh parmesan on top and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown. A little flash with the broiler can turn that cheese to a perfect brown.

I also chose to bake one of the acorn squash along with the meal. We have an abundance of squash, some from the end of the farmers market season, others received more recently in our weekly box of organic produce from Growing Power. It was another fun task cutting the acorn squash in half, but after that's done, simply scoop out the seeds and bake it at 400° with butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt and pepper in the hollow of each half. During the 45 minutes of cook time, baste the squash a few times with the butter mixture. It's as simple as that.

Finally, I chopped up a bunch of fresh veggies for a salad. As I mentioned, we're receiving a box of fresh locally-grown organic produce every Saturday. It's refreshing to know we're eating well, and supporting local organic farms at the same time, but it's a chore to get through a box each week. We made a commitment, though, and we'd rather not waste good produce doing this on a weekly basis. So we make careful decisions and plan meals thinking about how to use up the produce. Salads are a quick and easy way to get through some of the veggies quickly.

I rinsed a bunch of spinach, peeled some carrots, and chopped some broccoli, onions, and tomatoes.  Then, I chopped a hard-boiled egg and garnished the salad. We've also received a dozen of organic eggs the last few weeks in our produce box, so any way to use an egg is a good thing!

The bread was delicious, very light and fluffy, although not as Parmesan-y as I expected. The "spaghetti squash bake" turned out great; the only complaint was that there weren't enough leftovers.

Cooking is something I thoroughly enjoy. I never have enough time, so the little time I can find is always well spent. For me, cooking a meal to share with friends is pure enjoyment! I hope you enjoy this One Good Meal with your friends.

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holden / November 25, 2003 1:50 PM

Perfect timing. I have never cooked a spaghetti squash before and I have one at home on the counter, staring at me every time I walk through the kitchen. Now I have a plan for it. The squash bake sounds very tasty, and pretty simple too.

Andrew / November 25, 2003 2:19 PM

Spaghetti squash has got to be one of the easiest, best meals ever. If you're not into the meat sauce, might I recommend a simple topping of butter and parmesan cheese, plus a little salt and pepper. Scrumptious!

Gretchen / January 10, 2004 8:31 PM

where can i sign up for a produce box (in chicago)? i looked on the growing power website, but no luck. i'd love it if you'd email me and let me know.
also--the meal sounds great and inspirational.


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