Spaghetti squash is an incredibly versatile winter squash varietal that’s nutritious, low-calorie, gluten-free, paleo-approved, a fantastic substitute for pasta, and best of all, it’s super easy to cook and prep. I can literally think of 7 million uses for it, but if you’ve never cooked a spaghetti squash before, it can be a little daunting. Here’s the ultimate guide for how to cook spaghetti squash, plus delicious recipes to try.
How to shop for spaghetti squash
When shopping, look for squash that feels heavy with a firm shell and no bruising. The color falls in a spectrum from pale yellow to orange depending on the beta-carotene content, and some are speckled or mottled with green. Spaghetti squash is the perfect dieter’s food because it fills you up but has almost no carbs. It’s also loaded with vitamins C and B-6, antioxidants and essential minerals such as potassium.
How to cook spaghetti squash
Like the food it’s named after, spaghetti squash is mild tasting — not as densely sweet as other winter squash — and best utilized as a vehicle for flavorful sauce or topping. But its sweet, slightly nutty delicacy is half of its charm, and nothing more than a fresh herb and some cheese is needed to make a classic standout dish. I even love it with just good butter and lots of salt and pepper and put under the broiler for a bit of last-minute browning.
The “spaghetti” strands are delicate, however, so don’t expect to be tossing a big bowl with meat sauce or slurping long strands of it. A good trick is to use the shell as the bowl, so you can load on tons of yumminess with minimal breakage, and then pop it back in the oven to melt and get saucy!
Probably the biggest challenge in preparing spaghetti squash is slicing the darn thing open — it may take a few tries and different angles — but go slowly and try using a dishtowel to cradle it for stability. If you’re really struggling you can also roast it whole. It may take a bit longer, as long as an hour and a half, but piercing the shell all over with a fork before roasting will speed things along.
Once you manage to cut the thing open, high five your inner samurai, and get to work scooping out all the seeds and fibers filling the open cavity. If you’re a seed roaster — save these!— they fry (or bake) up beautifully and add crunch and nutty texture to any dish they’re invited to.
Spaghetti squash recipes tend toward the Mediterranean influence, but I discovered that the strands resemble rice noodles and work great with Asian flavors, too. When browned on a stovetop pan or griddle, it also makes a ridiculously good substitute for hash browns.
There are five main methods for cooking spaghetti squash: boiling, pressure cooking, roasting, steam roasting and microwave.
How to boil spaghetti squash
When boiling be sure to pierce the squash in several spots (never do this when the squash is cooking or it may explode on you, really!) before submerging into hot water and bringing it to a vigorous simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes, rolling the squash periodically so both sides cook. When the squash can be easily pierced with a knife, remove it to a colander and rinse with cold water. When it’s cool enough to handle, slice it open lengthwise, remove the seeds and fibers with an ice cream scoop or large soup spoon. Run a fork from the skin to the center, allowing the squash to form ribbon-like strands.
How to microwave spaghetti squash
Microwaving is a super easy method that yields consistently good results, and is very similar to boiling: pierce to the middle in several spots, nuke for 20 minutes or until steam vents out of the holes, and let cool for 10 minutes. Then follow the finishing steps above.
How to roast spaghetti squash
Lightly coat in extra-virgin olive oil, then bake first face down, then up at 400°F for about 30 minutes, depending upon size. The nice thing about this is you get some browning on the exposed flesh.
How to steam-roast spaghetti squash
If you’re looking for a quick fat-free method, steam roasting is a great option. Place the halved, de-seeded squash face down in a baking dish, then pour a ½ to ¾ cup hot water into the dish and roast for about 30 minutes until tender.
How to pressure cook spaghetti squash
If you own a pressure cooker, this is far and away the fastest method. Depending on the ripeness of your squash it can take as little as 8 or 9 minutes for a cut squash to get tender, but it can also take twice that time. That’s still faster than any other method by 30 percent. In order to fit 2 halves in the steamer cut the squash crosswise through the middle, add a cup of water, and pressure away. The cool thing about this is that you get longer strands because they run concentrically around the middle.