Thursday, October 23, 2008

Veggie Might: Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca and the Best Little Sauce in the Kitchen

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Lately at the market, I’ve been slapped in the face by bins and bins of squash. It’s all I can do not to full up my basket with the bounty of fall. But with the last weeks of the CSA filling my kitchen, I have to resist.

I satisfied the most recent urge by purchasing one spaghetti squash, and a relatively small one at that—just under two pounds. The wheels in my head started spinning. Spaghetti squash is a favorite dish from my waitron days, and I make my own version of my former employer’s recipe every fall. Heck, here in New York, where I can get pretty much any vegetable anytime I usually make it more often. But it’s been a long, long while.

The way the owner serves spaghetti squash is, well, like spaghetti, primavera style. But since it’s not exactly spring outside, at least here on a tiny island off the eastern coast of North America, I wanted something with a little more va-va-va-voom.

Plus the only other veggies I had were turnips and leftover patty pans. It might have worked, but I just didn’t want squash on my squash.

I wandered around the market, looking for inspiration, channeling my fridge and cupboards, and trying not to put anything else in the basket. Lightbulb! I only needed one more ingredient for sauce: olives.

Salty, spicy, sassy... sugo alla puttanesca is nearly perfect. Named for the hardest working ladies out past our bedtimes (Sorry graveyard shift proofreaders, I don’t mean you), this hottie of a sauce is known for being fiery and aromatic.

At home, I had everything else I needed (which is the whole point—the ladies were restricted to shopping one day a week): tomatoes, onions, garlic, capers, and crushed red chili flakes. Splurging while being as frugal as possible, I chose the smallest container and scooped out about 6 or so of the fat pimiento-stuffed green olives and 3 or 4 kalamatas.

I was nervous at the checkout; the olive bar just went up from $5.99 to $7.99 a pound—it used to be the cheapest that I’ve seen in the city. I skipped all the way home. The squash, at 99 cents a pound, was $1.89 and the olives came in at a whopping $1.36.

The reject heirloom tomatoes on my kitchen table were finally ripe enough to use, but not good enough to slice and eat. (Because they are way less than perfect, these worm-holed and somewhat smashed beauties have been “extra” a.k.a. free with my CSA share.) They had bad places that needed trimming, but were totally sauce-worthy. Chopping them up produced about 18 oz of diced tomato.

I learned to make sauce by modifying a basic recipe from Moosewood New Classics. The more cookbooks I read, the more I realize it’s a pretty universal formula. In a nutshell, sauté onion in a little bit of olive oil, add garlic, add the tomatoes, maybe a little tomato sauce or juice if you want, and then whatever spices you like. Tada! Sauce.

(If any Italian mamas or papas out there want to adopt me and teach me to make sauce, I’m an apt pupil.)

For my vegetarian version of puttanesca, which “traditionally” has anchovies, I substituted vegetarian Worcestershire sauce. I’m not sure why; it just seemed like a good idea. Once the tomatoes, onions, and garlic were bubbling, I tossed in a little tomato sauce, the olives, capers, and a bit of fresh oregano I had leftover from my weekly take.

It smelled so good; I nearly forgot I’d put the spaghetti squash in the oven. It almost seemed superfluous to the sauce. But turn back o, man. It tasted good too—even beyond what I imagined.

The squash came out perfectly, no thanks to me (I must learn to use a timer). The slightly sweet, crunchy threads of squash accompanied by the fiery, tangy sauce was delicious and just the combination I wanted. Owner of the restaurant where I used to be a waitron, you wish your sauce was this good.

(Her sauce is really good.)

PS – I’ve been so obsessed with the sauce, I barely talked about how healthy this dish is. It is so low in calories and fat, your eyes may bug out. Throw some veggies on there and you are set. You may (will) want a piece of bread on the side to mop up any extra sauce, lest you lick the bowl in front of your coworkers. Who wants to look undignified in this economy? Just a suggestion.

Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca
Yields 4 servings

1 spaghetti squash
1 tbsp olive oil
18 oz fresh tomatoes, diced (or 16 oz can)
1/2 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced coarsely
1/3 can tomato sauce (8 oz can)
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 oz chopped olives
1-1/2 tbsp capers with a bit of brine
1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes (Note: You may want to start with 1 tsp and increase to taste. Mine came out pretty hot, but I like it that way.)
3 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
salt to taste

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF.

2) Slice stem end off squash to create flat surface. Set squash on flat end, and slice in half long-ways down the middle. (I didn’t say this would be easy. Use your sharpest knife.)

3) Scoop out seeds and goop and discard. (You can rinse seeds and roast them if you like. They’re tasty.)

4) Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray or lightly grease in your favorite manner.

5) Place squash, cut side down, on sheet and place in oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes.


6) Chop, chop, chop: tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olives.

7) In a saucepan or cast iron skillet, over medium heat, sauté onions in olive oil for 3–5 minutes or until they start to become translucent. Add garlic and continue sautéing for another minute or two, stirring occasionally.

8) To the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, olives, capers with a little bit of brine, and spices.

9) Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for twenty minutes or so.

Back to the squash...

10) It’s done when a fork will puncture the skin without too much trouble. (It won’t be floppy.)

11) Remove from oven and allow squash to cool enough to handle.

12) Use a fork to “rake” out the squash from the rind into a serving bowl. It will separate and thread like spaghetti.

13) Top with puttanesca sauce and dig in. Mmm...soo delicious. Try to wait until it cools.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
135 calories, 5.05 g fat, $1.21

1 spaghetti squash: 168 calories, 0g fat, $1.89
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil: 120 calories, 14g fat, $0.08
18 oz fresh tomatoes: 97 calories, 0g fat, free from CSA box
1/2 large onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
4 cloves garlic: 17 calories, 0g fat, $.05
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce: negligible calories and fat, $.06
1/3 can tomato sauce (8 oz can): 27 calories, 0 fat, $.20
1 1/2 oz chopped olives: 62 calories, 6g fat, $1.19
1 1/2 tbsp capers: 8 calories, 0 fat, $.82
1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes: negligible calories and fat, $.02
3 sprigs fresh oregano: negligible calories and fat, $.02
salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
TOTALS: 539 calories, 20.2g fat, $4.85
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 135 calories, 5.05g fat, $1.21


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