|Shepherds Pie with Spaghetti Squash Topping|
You've heard spaghetti squash is a great substitute for pasta, and you have one sitting on your counter. Now what do you do with it? Spaghetti squash, also known as "calabash squash" or "vegetable spaghetti", is really quite unique because when cooked the flesh looks like thin translucent strands of thin spaghetti. It has a mild, delicate flavour somewhat like that of yellow summer squash and a watery texture.The flavour of spaghetti squash is similar to other winter squashes but its texture reflects its name. I thought perhaps we could rename it "angel hair pasta squash" or "spaghettini squash" which would more accurately describe the strands, which are not as fat as cooked spaghetti noodles. This texture is the squash’s greatest asset, and the best recipes, I think, play upon it.
Although you can boil or steam spaghetti squash or even prepare it in a slow cooker, I recommend roasting it in the oven, especially when it will be used in a more complex recipe. Cooking in dry heat concentrates its flavours and evaporates some of the squash’s moisture. This is the perfect method for making this dish. When the squash is boiled or steamed, it can become a bit too watery to work well in today’s recipe but would be a great pasta substitute or nice with some butter and herbs!!!
To cook the squash in the oven, use a heavy knife or cleaver to cut it in half lengthwise. Set on a baking sheet and set on the middle rack in a 350F oven. Cook for about 35 to 40 minutes or until the flesh is tender when poked with a fork. Alternately, you can pierce the shell with a heavy fork in several places and bake it whole for about 1 to 1¼ hours as I do. It is important to pierce the shell or you may have some mishaps in your oven. To remove the flesh, hold the sliced squash in your hand with a doubled tea towel and use a spoon to remove the seeds and then use a fork to pull the flesh from the skin. In the large bowl use two forks to separate it into strands.
I discovered spaghetti squash, or I should say my mom discovered it when I was "knee high to a grasshopper". Mom usually served it with just a dab of butter and sometimes herbs. Me I love to play, so quite often add tomatoes or salsa as well as CHEESE!!!
With the colder weather upon us and the shortest day of the year coming up fast I am in need of the gastronomic equivalent of a warm sweater. The making of this dish will find me hibernating in my kitchen and preparing the ultimate of the ultimate of comfort foods!!! Earlier this week I shared one of my favourite recipes for macaroni and cheese which is synonymous with the word comfort food in my books, but coming in a close second would be shepherd's pie. In a few short days I will be heading to San Franscisco and the Foodbuzz Festival so am looking to use up any leftovers I have in my fridge. This is what inspired me to top my shepherds pie filling with spaghetti squash in lieu of potatoes. You can layer your favourite veggies in between the layers or serve it simply with some salsa for that extra punch of flavour.
**Shepherds Pie with Spaghetti Squash Topping**
1-1/2 lbs, ground beef
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 cup long-grain brown rice, cooked
2-3 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
4 tbsp. butter
2 tablespoon. flour
1 cup beef stock
salt and pepper to taste
Spaghetti Squash Topping
1 2-pound spaghetti squash, cooked
1 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Melt butter in a large skillet and add onions. Saute until translucent. Add ground beef, garlic and seasonings. Cook for a few minutes until meat is no longer pink. Slowly stir in beef broth and flour and continue cooking until gravy is thickened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the herbs, and stir well to mix. Cook on medium low for 10 minutes. Add rice in last few moments of cooking.
To make spaghetti squash topping - Whisk eggs and milk together. Add cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper and fold in squash.
Put meat mixture in a 2 quart casserole and spread the spaghetti squash mixture evenly on top. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until meat is bubbling hot and the topping is browned.
NOTE: Soak brown rice prior to cooking. It will reduce your cooking time by half. The beef mixture and squash can be made ahead of time. Cover separately and refrigerate for up to 2 days. If beef mixture is cold from the fridge, bake for an extra 15 minutes.
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