Thai Spaghetti Squash with Peanut Sauce

Thai Spaghetti Squash with Peanut Sauce

https://www.macheesmo.com/thai-spaghetti-squash-with-peanut-sauce/

If you’re looking for a good way to eat a lot of vegetables in a hurry (and actually enjoy them), you’ve come to the right place. This is a solid, straightforward stir fry with loads of fresh veggies in a super tasty peanut sauce, and by swapping spaghetti squash for a rice or pasta base, it basically doubles your serving of vegetables.

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Now, a note about spaghetti squash. People get really exuberant about this stuff; almost evangelical. And I see why; it’s neat! Pulling the cooked flesh away from the rind and watching it magically separate itself into neat, pasta-like strands is a little bit unbelievable. But, I feel compelled to add a small reality check: it tastes like squash. (Not too surprising for a squash, I hope?) It does not taste or look identical to spaghetti. So, you know, if you expect to serve this to a lucid adult and convince them that it’s pasta… well, your mileage may vary depending on the adult, but maybe just don’t get too cocky about what is possible.

Now, that said, the point of pasta in most dishes is to be a blank canvas for the other flavors on the plate. It doesn’t have a super strong flavor of its own, and that’s also true of spaghetti squash. It’s pleasant, mild, a little nutty in the way that squash is nutty, and great at soaking up other flavors. This recipe is a perfect example of how to use spaghetti squash well. A good variety of fresh veggies are stir-fried in a neutral oil (he suggests coconut oil), and then the whole mess is smothered in a spicy, savory Asian-inspired sauce.

I pretty much approve of everything about this recipe. I’d never stir fried in coconut oil before; the flavor was mostly overwhelmed by the peanut sauce, but I did catch a hint of it, and it was lovely and light. The sauce doesn’t have too many ingredients (a complaint I sometimes have with this kind of sauce), and many are pantry staples you’re likely to have on hand and can use in many other Asian recipes.

The vegetables he suggests all go great together, but of course you can modify it to use what you have on hand. I had broccoli, carrots, and sugar snap peas (used for pasta primavera earlier in the week); I threw in all the rest of those, plus some roasted red peppers from the other week.

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The only thing that might give me pause if I’m thinking of making this again is the prep time. I find his 20 minute estimate to be a little short (as I often do with Macheesmo); he must be some kind of super-fast ninja chopper. When I got into the kitchen and remembered that the first step was 40 minutes of squash roasting, I thought, crap… I wish I’d started this sooner. But I shouldn’t have worried, because I was still finishing the sauce and stir fry when the squash came out of the oven. I happened to glance at the oven timer as I was dumping the first veggies into the skillet, so I know that the prep for veggies and sauce took me exactly 30 minutes. This includes the whole deal: washing veggies, throwing out the produce bags, chopping everything, throwing out the vegetable detritus, getting jars out of the cabinet, pulling up the recipe multiple times to double check the measurements, and measuring all the sauce ingredients into the pot. (I did burn four minutes on stirring up a new jar of peanut butter, in fairness. I never ever rush this, because if your peanut butter isn’t fully mixed the first time you use it, your oil-to-peanut ratio is off… FOREVER! Or at least for the life of the jar. I worry about these things.)

Anyway, it was about 30 minutes of getting-stuff-together for both sauce and veggies, and 10 minutes of actual time on the stove. So everything was wrapping up at about the time the squash came out. Which was convenient on the one hand, but on the other, making the squash ahead wouldn’t have really bought me anything.

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Even so, it tasted great – very savory and satisfying. I like squash, so I wouldn’t have minded either way, but with the sauce and all the other vegetable flavors I didn’t notice it much. I left the egg off because I had a late lunch and wasn’t hungry enough for it, but I added one to the leftovers the next day, and it was even more delicious. Super filling and reasonably healthy; definitely a winner overall, even if it did take a while.

Deliciousness score: 8/10
Easiness score: 7/10

5.4 rating

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/pioneer_womans_/

So, pasta primavera is built on a pretty basic principle: when springtime rolls around and you finally have access to fresh vegetables again after the long winter, get a bunch and throw them in some pasta. (“Primavera” is an old Latin word for “springtime.”) I’ve made various pasta primavera recipes at various times of year, and while it’s certainly never a bad idea to eat vegetables, it’s especially exciting if you can get super-fresh, first-harvest-of-spring veggies.

This year I was looking forward to trying this amazing recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  She’s a well-known name in the food blogging world, to say the least; her posts are approachable and funny, with lots of great step-by-step photos, and I’ve been looking forward to exploring more of her site.  Also, my veggie haul for this pasta primavera was the best I’ve ever had. We had local sugar snap peas, broccoli, and rainbow carrots, courtesy of our cute corner market (Kredl’s in Hampton).

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The carrots came in orange, purple, and yellow. The centers of the purple carrots were totally white; neat, eh?

They also had really fresh, firm red bell peppers and zucchini. I was feeling optimistic, pretty sure this would be the best pasta primavera ever. And in the end, it was, but it was a long road to get there.

First off, this is a prep-intensive recipe, at least by my standards. Any dish with this many raw vegetables is going to find you standing in the kitchen chopping for a while. She specifically says to chop all the veggies first; a sensible idea when there are so many, and none are going to cook for very long. I did this, and arranged them in the order in which they were going into the pot.

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Broccoli, then carrots, then red peppers, then zucchini. (Not pictured: sugar snap peas, which I added whole and uncooked at the end.)

The veggies are cooked in batches, so you’ll want some empty plates on hand for dumping them out of the skillet. She good-naturedly entreats you to only cook each vegetable batch for a short time – generally 1 or 2 minutes max. This leaves them nicely crisp in the final dish, and helps them hold that crispness in the sauce. I like this idea in theory, but in practice I found that the broccoli and red peppers turned out a little hard for my taste. You could safely add at least 1 minute to each recommended cook time and still come out with crisp & very edible veggies. Definitely a matter of personal preference; just keep an eye on them and taste when you think they look done.

I do think the crisper vegetables will hold up better as leftovers, which is good news, because this makes a lot of pasta! It depends on how many different vegetables you add, of course. And this probably goes without saying, but this is one of the most customizable recipes out there. Carrots, peas, and broccoli seem like pretty consistent staples across recipes – this makes sense, since carrots & broccoli are cold-weather crops, and (some varieties of) peas are super quick to mature, so they all tend to be available early in the spring. But you could certainly add whatever you like and have on hand. Her version calls for mushrooms, which I left out, because I’ve recently admitted to myself that I don’t like mushrooms. (I got used to eating them as grilled portobello sandwiches during my years as a vegetarian, which were frequently the only veg offering at restaurants. I convinced myself I liked them, but with maybe one particularly well-spiced exception, it’s just not quite the same.)

Anyway. The vegetables all cook up pretty rapid-fire once they’re prepped and going. You cook them all in succession, then start the sauce in the same skillet. This was an unexpected time sink for me. My sauce took a looooooong time to cook down – like, at least 30 minutes. It doesn’t start off in the usual way of white sauces, with whisking flour into melted butter, which surprised me.  To be fair to the recipe, I do think some of this extended cook time was user error. About 15 minutes in, I discovered that at some point I had accidentally hit the little button on my stove burner that turns off the outer ring, leaving it cooking on the smaller inner ring only. I would be perfectly happy if this button didn’t exist; I don’t think I’ve ever pressed it intentionally, and it seems like its only purpose is to make me hate my life.

Also, I substituted white wine vinegar for the white wine. I frequently do this when we don’t have alcohol on hand; it tastes a little different of course, but still adds a nice acidic zing to the final sauce. Because I used less vinegar than the amount of wine called for, I added more chicken broth to compensate, and it’s possible I added too much without noticing. But even so, this is a lot of liquid! Two full cups of dairy (1 each of cream and half & half). Some people may not mind a thinner sauce, but I really need any sauce I use to at least coat the back of a spoon. Just a personal bugaboo. I stood and stirred for what felt like ages until I could finally see the bottom of the pan when I scraped the spatula across.

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You can sort of see that the sauce is thick enough to reveal the bottom of the pan as I’m stirring. A surprisingly hard thing to get a photo of!

So. In the end, this took me over an hour. Refreshingly, her given time estimate of 50 minutes seems fairly realistic; with fewer sauce-related mishaps, I think I could get close to that time. And, most importantly, the end result was completely delicious. Each vegetable was a little crisp explosion of spring flavor. I was amazed at how sweet everything tasted, especially the carrots and onions. Spring produce is often harvested young, and I think it tends to be sweeter that way. And the sauce, which I was so worried about, was fantastic in the end. With cream and parmesan and salt and basil, you can’t really go wrong.

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All in all, I am happy with the results of my most-highly-anticipated pasta primavera ever. That said, as great as it is to cook things from scratch, if you have a store-bought white pasta sauce you know you like, you could just use that. It wouldn’t be quite the same, but (in my case anyway) it would have cut the cooking time by at least half. Just something to consider, if you’re excited about eating more veggies but feel like this is a little over the top. Personally though, I think the sauce was worth the effort, and I’ll definitely be coming back to this recipe again, although possibly not until next spring.

Deliciousness score: 8/10
Easiness score: 5/10

5.2 rating