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Chef Jess: Squash your dinner plans

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole is a surefire way to get the whole family to eat their vegetables. Jessica Karley Rerick / Forum News Service1 / 2
Creamy Garlic and Herb Spaghetti Squash is a perfect fall side dish. Jessica Karley Rerick / Forum News Service2 / 2

I am sure a lot of you have heard of a different kind of garden squash that has been making waves in the healthy cooking world: spaghetti squash. Its name alone makes it sound quite appealing and, really, it's just about as versatile as its pasta counterpart.

Spaghetti squash gets its name from the texture of the squash once it is cooked. After the squash has baked, the fibers in the squash do not mush together in the same way that many other squash do, but instead, they remain separate so when removed with a fork, they have a very "noodle-like" look to them.

As an added bonus, the flavor of the squash is very light and on the slightly sweet side, so it lends itself to a variety of different flavors. Those following low-carb or gluten-free diets appreciate it because it is a great substitute for pasta in their favorite dishes, from Italian to Asian.

To prepare a spaghetti squash, cut it in half lengthwise and use a large metal spoon to remove the seeds and stringy insides. (The boys, of course, refer to those parts as the "guts.")

Place 2 cups of water in the bottom of a 9-by-13 baking pan, and place your squash cut-side down. Then, cover the pan with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the foil, and let the squash cool for 15 minutes or until it is easier to handle.

This step can be done ahead of time because the squash will store well in the refrigerator for two to three days. In fact, that trick to making spaghetti squash meals makes it one of the speediest options for weeknight meals.

Creamy Garlic and Herb Spaghetti Squash is a perfect fall side dish. Jessica Karley Rerick / Forum News ServiceAs a side dish, I like to serve Creamy Garlic and Herb Spaghetti Squash. This is a very fast dinner and is perfect when you are short on time. You can even prep it while your squash is in the oven.

For the garlic and herb sauce, I heated butter and olive oil in a saute pan with crushed chili flakes and garlic until the mixture was foaming. I then added 1 cup of cream and brought it to a boil. I seasoned the cream sauce with salt and pepper and let the mixture reduce by half.

Once the squash was ready, I added the shredded squash to the pan with fresh chopped herbs. You can use any herbs you like, but in my house, we are partial to parsley and basil.

To finish it off, I stirred in a little Parmesan cheese and placed it in a serving dish for the meal. It's a fun, low-carb treat.

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole is a great way to get you or your family on board with substituting squash for pasta. How could you go wrong with not only spaghetti in the name, but also pizza and casserole? That just sounds like it's loaded with goodness.

To make the casserole, I cooked the squash a day ahead of time and had it chilled in my refrigerator.

I sauteed 1 pound of Italian-seasoned ground pork with ½ cup diced yellow onion, 1 diced bell pepper and 4 cloves of fresh minced garlic. Once the pork was browned and cooked through, I added one 24-ounce jar of spaghetti sauce and some cottage cheese for a little bit of creaminess.

Then, I poured all of that into a glass baking dish and put it in my oven for 30 minutes. Of course, a pizza casserole would not be complete without a little pizza cheese, so I added 2 cups of mozzarella cheese to the top of the casserole and let it bake until it was melted, bubbling and starting to turn golden brown.

My favorite way to serve this is in a large bowl, with a large fork and a large glass of wine. Hey, at least I am honest.

Creamy Garlic and Herb Spaghetti Squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

3 cloves garlic, fresh minced

¼ teaspoon red chili flake

1 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper

⅓ cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil

1 spaghetti squash, prepared

⅓ cup shredded parmesan cheese

In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the chili flakes and garlic and heat until the garlic starts to foam.

Add the heavy cream, kosher salt and pepper. Bring it to a boil and let the mixture reduce by half.

Add the spaghetti squash, reduce the heat to low, and let the mixture warm for 10 minutes or until you are ready to serve.

Garnish with extra fresh herbs or Parmesan cheese.

Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole

1 pound Italian sausage

½ cup yellow onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 spaghetti squash prepared

1½ cups cottage cheese

1 24-ounce jar spaghetti sauce

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 cups mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large saute pan, combine Italian sausage, yellow onion, and bell pepper. Cook on medium-high heat until the pork is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.

In a large bowl, combine the spaghetti squash, cottage cheese, spaghetti sauce, salt, pepper and meat mixture. Stir gently until evenly combined.

Pour into a large glass baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, then top with mozzarella and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Turn broiler on in oven and broil for 4 minutes or until the cheese browns. Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Rerick is a professional chef and blogger. Follow her on Pinterest as Jessica Karley Rerick. If you have a party idea to share, email her at craveablekitchen@gmail.com.

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