Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

With the days so much shorter, and having to turn the heat on and pull out the thick blankets, even in southern california I’ve really been craving comfort food. The meal I immediately go to at this point every year is my father’s cottage pie, perfect, juicy and cheesy every time, but until I work up the nerve to try to imitate it (I promise, more on that later!) this week I stuffed the spaghetti squash from my produce box!
I pulled ingredients from several different recipes but ended up leaning toward the more traditional ground beef and tomato you might find in…well…a cottage pie. it wasn’t as brazenly flavorful as i generally cook, if i were to do it again I might add just a couple more cloves of garlic, i even contemplated how a drizzle of balsamic would have faired (very well, i think, but i’m well aware of my inexplicable obsession with balsamic vinegar). But nevertheless this is comfort food at it’s definition, and did exactly that. One good sized squash easily serves two meals for two people (we split one half easily, don’t you think sharing a bowl is so romantic?) and on the second night added a generous sprinkle of hot sauce (i grabbed that tapatío) which was a very satisfactory quick fix.

1 good sized spaghetti squash
3/4 lb ground beef (i got extra lean, and this was more than enough, but i didn’t want to skimp!)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell peper, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
a couple bay leaves
1 can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 tsp each?)
about 1/2 cup grated cheese, I used pepper jack

Start by steaming your squash: Cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a sharp spoon and place both halves face down on a baking sheet with walls. Fill the sheet with a bit of water, you don’t need any more than 1/4 inch depth, and bake, uncovered in a 375 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until tender.
While the squash is cooking start on the stuffing: In a large skillet with a couple tablespoons of olive oil sauté the onions over medium heat until translucent. add the green pepper and garlic and continue to cook another few minutes before adding the beef and mushrooms. cook until the meat is no longer pink (you may want to drain at this point). Add garlic, cumin, oregano and bay leaves, cook for a couple minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and continue to cook down a couple minutes. Taste for proper seasoning and adjust as necessary.
When the squash is done remove from the oven and pat insides dry. when cool enough to handle use a fork or sharp spoon to scoop out the spaghetti insides. Add the squash to the filling (it may not all fit back in with all the squash, so I left a handful or two out) and cook the filling down another 10 minutes or so to let the liquid reduce.
Return to the filling to the squash bowls and bake, uncovered for 15 minutes. Cover with cheese and bake an additional 5 minutes or until the cheese melts and bubbles. Sprinkle with some cilantro to garnish and enjoy!

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