Spaghetti Revisited

I have been a pasta lover all of my life. Growing up, my “birthday meal” every year used to be Mom’s macaroni with cream sauce and a salty slice of ham. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a pasta I didn’t like – e.g., lasagna, cannelloni, tortellini, pasta alfredo, pasta with sausage and peppers, and, of course, spaghetti and meatballs. Yet, as a processed food, pasta isn’t all that healthy. And red meat has fallen out of favor given that a substance it produces during digestion – trimethylamine N-oxide or TMAO – may elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, what’s a pasta-loving gal to do? Make a few substitutions to my old spaghetti recipe!

FIRST: I substituted spaghetti squash for pasta. When cooked, this mild-flavored vegetable looks rather like a serving of angel hair pasta. I enjoy eating it plain with just a lite dousing of extra virgin olive oil and Mrs. Dash seasoning. It also makes a perfectly good base for pasta sauce and compares favorably with the Real McCoy. One cup of spaghetti squash has a mere 42 calories versus 220 in noodles. Spaghetti squash also delivers quite a few essential vitamins and minerals.

To roast spaghetti squash in the oven, start by pre-heating the oven to 375°. Then:

spaghetti squash cut and cored
Cut the spaghetti squash lengthwise in half and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
spaghetti squash ready for baking
Place cut-side down on a lightly greased or nonstick cookie sheet. (I use a nonstick liner.) Roast until tender, about 35-45 minutes. A knife should pass easily through the rind and flesh.
scraping the pulp from spaghetti squash
Use a fork to scrape out the flesh in long strands. When cooked “just right,” the flesh releases all the way to the rind yet doesn’t taste “mushy.”
spaghetti squash ready to eat
Voilà! You’re ready to eat!

If you’re short on time, you can slice, core, and grease the spaghetti squash, and then microwave it for 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash and the microwave’s power output. Or, a pressure cooker can steam a whole, 2-lb spaghetti squash in about 15 minutes. Whatever cooking method you use, make sure you do not overcook the squash! You want the strands to have a little stiffness when cooked.

SECOND: Plant-based ground beef alternatives have been around for decades. They typically involve some combination of beans, grains, vegetables (e.g., mushrooms, kale), nuts, seeds, and/or tofu. I’ve tried a bunch of these recipes with varying degrees of success. None came close to replacing the good-old-fashioned ground beef that sizzles on the outdoor grill or cooks up nicely in a tomato sauce… until now.

In 2011, Stanford emeritus professor Pat Brown founded a company called Impossible Foods with a mission “to save meat and earth.” A biochemist and pediatrician by training, Dr. Brown was alarmed at the collapse in global biodiversity as a function of our excessive use of animals for food. He recognized that folks wouldn’t readily give up what they love to eat. So, he decided to create a plant-based product that tasted, smelled, and acted meaty.

spaghetti revisitedAfter years of research and development, the company’s signature product – the Impossible Burger – was launched in July 2016. Version 2.0 was released in January 2019. Impossible Burgers are available in select grocers and fast food restaurants. You can buy grill-ready patties or a block of ground meat substitute. From a nutritional standpoint, the Impossible Burger compares favorably with lean ground beef. A 4-ounce patty provides 240 calories, 19 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbohydrate, and 14 grams of fat. Having tried the patties and found them tasty, I used a ground block in my favorite tomato sauce to good effect. (I doubt anyone would know that I’d made the substitution!)

For those who are lactose intolerant, you can make a “vegan parmesan cheese” to top off your spaghetti by grinding a cup of cashews, a half-cup nutritional yeast, and some salt-free seasoning (e.g., Mrs. Dash Garlic and Onion) in a small food processor. I’ve used this concoction often and find it reasonably tasty. But I also allow myself the indulgence of freshly grated Parmesan cheese from time to time.