Food & Drink

Cowgirl Chef: Take on winter squash with faux spaghetti, enchiladas

Deconstructed squash lasagna
Deconstructed squash lasagna

Heavy to carry home, odd-shaped and not always easy to manage, winter squashes can be intimidating to cook with. Then there’s the imagination required to get from the raw state to the finished dish, whether we’re talking about pasta, or soup, or whatever it might be — you wonder, is there really something interesting in there?

Winter squashes play well with other seasonal fruits and vegetables — try pairing them with pears, mushrooms, or spinach or Swiss chard.

Unlike summer squashes, which are easy to prepare, winter squashes are more dense and require a little elbow grease to slice through, but they reward the effort by subtly sweetening up whatever they’re paired with.

Squashes play well with other seasonal fruits and vegetables, too — try pairing them with pears, mushrooms, or spinach or Swiss chard — and they’re versatile, easily pureed and made into a sauce or a soup, or roasted and added to any number of dishes, from a casual plate of weeknight enchiladas to a more elegant stuffed spaghetti squash for a dinner party main.

The mildly sweet taste means squash works well with a number of different flavor profiles, from warm and spicy Tex-Mex to more complex Asian dishes. I’ve made Indian curries with butternut squash and Italian pastas with red kuri, and either one could be swapped out for the other.

Then there’s dessert.

Pumpkin pie, anyone?

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25);, @cowgirlchef.

Squash prep

  • Before cutting squash, you’ll want to peel it. A serrated peeler makes this easy.
  • To give squash a solid base on the cutting board and keep it from rocking as you cut through it, slice off part of one side so it rests flat on a surface.
  • Use a very sharp knife for slicing and a soup spoon for scooping out seeds.

Red kuri squash with miso Farrar Food Photography

Red kuri squash with miso

Serves 2

  • 1 red kuri squash, peeled and sliced (or substitute butternut squash)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons mirin
  • 2 teaspoons miso paste
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • White sesame seeds, for garnish

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Put squash pieces on baking sheet and drizzle with oil, tossing to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and bake until browned on the edges, about 30 minutes.

3. Whisk together mirin, miso and sesame oil. Spoon over squash and bake 5 more minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve warm.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 199 calories, 12 grams fat, 24 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, no cholesterol, 387 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 50 percent of calories from fat.

Spaghetti squash with meat sauce Farrar Food Photography

Spaghetti squash with old-school meat sauce

Serves 2

If you make the meat sauce the day before, it’ll have a richer flavor.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1/2 cup diced yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Quarter of a red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 pound ground turkey (or other ground meat)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 (2-pound) spaghetti squash, halved and seeds removed
  • Parmesan, for serving

1. Put olive oil, onion and garlic in a medium-size stockpot over medium-high heat and cook until the onion starts to become translucent and you can smell it, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, about 5 minutes (they won’t get brown and crisp). Season with salt and pepper as you go. Add diced pepper and carrot and cook until they soften, about 10 minutes.

3. Add ground turkey, stir and let cook through, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and spices and stir until combined. Let cook for about an hour.

4. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place squash cut side down in casserole with  1/2 inch of water inside. Cover with foil. Roast 30 to 45 minutes or until it softens — squash should easily pull away from the skin when teased with a fork.

5. With a fork, scrape across squash to pull away “spaghetti” strings. Pile onto two plates and top each with 1 cup meat sauce and Parmesan.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 787 calories, 36 grams fat, 75 grams carbohydrates, 50 grams protein, 179 milligrams cholesterol, 1,300 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 39 percent of calories from fat.

Butternut squash enchiladas Farrar Food Photography

Butternut squash enchiladas with spinach and black beans

Serves 4

  • 4 cups diced butternut squash ( 1/2-inch cubes)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 5 ounces spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar salsa verde

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. On a large baking sheet, toss squash cubes with olive oil; season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast squash until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, warm black beans and spinach in a skillet with chili powder and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Cook just until the spinach begins to wilt (it’ll finish cooking in the oven).

3. In a skillet large enough to hold a tortilla, put corn oil and heat to medium-high. Add tortillas one at a time and fry on both sides, 30 seconds to a minute (this provides a barrier to the salsa, so the tortillas don’t get soggy).

4. Assemble the enchiladas: Put 1 tablespoon spinach/black bean mixture across a tortilla; add 1 tablespoon roasted butternut squash and about the same amount of goat cheese. Roll up and put in a rectangular casserole, seam side down. Repeat with the other tortillas. Pour salsa over the top and bake 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 578 calories, 23 grams fat, 77 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 881 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber, 34 percent of calories from fat.

Deconstructed Squash Lasagna-2
Deconstructed squash lasagna Farrar Food Photography

Deconstructed butternut squash lasagna

Serves 2

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1  1/2 cups whole milk
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 large (10-by-2  1/2-inch) lasagna noodles
  • 8 fresh sage leaves

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Peel squash and slice the neck into  1/4-inch discs, then cut these in half, so you have a bunch of half-circles. These will be the lasagna layers (you may not need all of them; freeze what you don’t use). Put pieces on baking sheet, evenly coat with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly browned on the edges, about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make bechamel sauce (you may also do this in advance and reheat when ready to assemble): In a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter, stirring with a wooden spoon. Gently and slowly sprinkle flour into butter, stirring constantly, until the mixture is incorporated. Stir and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add milk, whisking to combine, until it’s completely incorporated and you have a smooth, milky liquid. Continue to cook and whisk until the sauce begins to thicken. Add a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg — just enough to season the sauce but not to overwhelm.

4. Break lasagna noodles into 3 or 4 pieces each and cook according to the package directions. (Be sure to use the regular noodles and not the ones that don’t need to be cooked.) When the noodles are al dente, drain them.

5. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat and add fresh sage. Cook until crispy, then remove skillet from heat.

6. To assemble, in a shallow dish or on a plate, layer: 1 noodle, 2 pieces of roasted butternut squash, 1 tablespoon of bechamel; repeat three more times. You should have 8 pieces of squash per serving. Add crispy sage leaves on top of each serving, pour some butter on top, and serve right away.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 1,404 calories, 39 grams fat, 238 grams carbohydrates, 37 grams protein, 87 milligrams cholesterol, 503 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber, 24 percent of calories from fat.