August 20, 2012
Oh, high school.
Can I just tell you guys how thrilled I am to no longer be a part of that institution? It’s a fact that I have heartily enjoyed over the past few years of college, but most especially during the month of August. Back-to-school season is so much more fun from the sidelines, away from the traffic and tax-free weekends. There’s the stores packed with hormonal adolescents spending hours deciding which backpack is the coolest or if they should even use a backpack because that might be too kiddy or if the pink Barbie one is ironically cute or just lame. There are beleaguered parents following at a distance, speculating at how and why pencils suddenly became expensive. There’s always that Spanish class that required six different colors of highlighters for the parts of speech, all of which have already been snatched up by the world’s seemingly quadrupled population of children under the age of ten. And at the end of it all, you’re rewarded with another year of high school.
High school—beyond being the strangest time warp of reality ever invented—is where my path first crossed with spaghetti squash. I was taking a Food Science class, although it was really more a course in how to force yourself to follow directions that say to make a chocolate cake with mayonnaise and how to sneak spices behind your teacher’s back. One fateful day, much too early in the morning, my teacher informed us that we would learn how to cook spaghetti squash. This task in and of itself is no big deal—spaghetti squash, although a moderately unknown vegetable, is delicious and looks like a fun plate of noodles. What takes this experience all the way from delightful to dreadful lies in the method of preparation. On that fine morning we would cook spaghetti squash in the microwave.
I know there are many dishes that can be made via the microwave. They’re quick, easy, and sometimes pretty yummy to boot. Spaghetti squash, though, simply offended my better sensibilities. The subsequent years saw a dramatic decline in my spaghetti squash consumption, plummeting from one to zero. I thought that there was no way to save this poor vegetable, as the educational system taught me only one method of unfortunate preparation. However, time heals all wounds and this one was no exception. After learning a thing or two about this veggie from this fantastic creation known as the internet, my eyes were opened and saw the light. Spaghetti squash can be baked and it can be beautiful.
Starting with that as a tasty base, I tossed together a quick topping/sauce/main dish thing to go on top and make that noodle-y squash all the more delicious. Just a bit of sautéed shrimp, some colorful green asparagus, and warm cherry tomatoes full of bright, summery juices turn this side dish into a meal. Garlic, butter, and cream tie it all together, making an amazing, savory sauce that soaks into the spaghetti squash “pasta” and totally seals the deal.
A dish like this just goes to show you how much better the real life is than the twilight-zone-esque high school life. With every passing year I appreciate it more and more and more. From no microwave-y Home Ec classes to no more hall passes, living life as a responsible adult is pretty nice. But I know that not all of you guys are enjoying this same kind of freedom. Some of you are in high school, or are parents of those in high school. Even those of you who are parents of younger kids are going through the perils of back-to-school season as I sit and type. Believe me, I feel for you. If I could, I would buy each and every one of you a super duper huge ice cream sundae. And then we could crumple up all the school supply lists and take turns gleefully pitching them in the trashcan.
And then hastily fishing them back out.
Teachers are scary when you don’t have the right three-ring binder.
Spaghetti Squash Pasta with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Cherry Tomatoes
A La Kocinera Original Recipe
1 spaghetti squash
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
30 whole cherry tomatoes
1 bunch asparagus, woody stems removed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/8-1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking dishes with nonstick aluminum foil or coat with nonstick spray. Carefully cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise (this may take a little bit of patience since they’re pretty large). Scrape away all the seeds with a spoon and discard. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the flesh of each half of squash, them sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt each. Place one squash half in each baking dish, flesh side down. Bake for 60-65 minutes, until cooked and tender.
After the squash has been in the oven for about 45 minutes, start preparing the shrimp and vegetables. First, steam or blanch the asparagus for 3 minutes. Once it’s cool enough to touch, cut the asparagus spears into 1-inch pieces, then set aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed skilled or shallow pot, melt the butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook for 1 minute, until the garlic is fragrant, but not browned. Add the shrimp, cherry tomatoes, asparagus to the pot, seasoning with freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the heavy cream and cook for an additional 2 minutes, until thickened.
Once the spaghetti squash is out of the oven and cooled, use a fork or large spoon to scrape out the noodle-like flesh and place in a large bowl for serving.
To serve, first place a pile of spaghetti squash “pasta” on a plate. Spoon a portion of the shrimp and vegetable mixture over the spaghetti squash, making sure to add plenty of the sauce. Serve immediately.
Serves 4-6 people.