Spaghetti squash dishes usually disappoint me. A surprisingly watery vegetable, spaghetti squash releases lots of juice that dilutes its usual partner of tomato sauce. The result? Bland flavor and mushy texture that is very far from what I expect from a pasta dish.
Here is my solution: make a highly concentrated sauce based on tomato paste, with lots of garlic, wine and chunky eggplant and mushroom pieces. The squash is roasted, then put into a pan with more sauteed garlic, freshly ground pepper and lots of Parmesan cheese (like cacio e pepe!). The eggplant mushroom sauce is then layered over the Parmesan squash mixture, like you would add sauce to a base of polenta. The dilution problem is gone. With all the umami flavor from Parmesan, wine and mushrooms, the blandness is gone, too. There is really nothing to be done about the mushiness, I am afraid, but treating the vegetable like a very textured polenta makes the mushiness less of a liability.
Roast Spaghetti Squash Cacio e Pepe:
1 spaghetti squash, cut in half, seeded and then roasted 40 minutes at 400 degrees, placed cut side down on a baking sheet
1 Tbl. olive oil plus 1 Tbl. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
salt, freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
Scrape the roasted squash out of the skin into a bowl, using a fork to break it up into pasta-like strands. Drain off any water. Reserve the shredded squash while you saute the garlic and shallot.
In a large saucepan or skillet, saute the garlic and shallot in the olive oil until golden, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the squash to the pan with the garlic. Toss the squash strands to coat them thoroughly with the oil. Add in the butter and continue to toss over heat until the squash is heated through. Off heat, add in the Parmesan, tossing it in to evenly coat. The cheese should melt and make a sauce with whatever liquid still remains from the squash. Layer the squash on the bottom of a casserole dish.
Eggplant Cremini Sauce:
2 Tbl. olive oil (for the eggplant)
1 onion, chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced (for the eggplant)
salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced (4 cups)
1 lb. cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced (you can also use plain white mushrooms)
1 red bell pepper or green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup), optional
1/2 -1 cup Marsala or sherry or any dry red wine
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp. minced fresh basil or pesto, optional
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
In a large, heavy skillet or a Dutch oven, saute the onion and garlic with the bay leaf and 1/2 tsp. salt for five minutes.
Add the eggplant and another 1/2 tsp. of salt and cook another ten minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms (and bell pepper, if using) and cook, stirring occasionally, another five minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the wine and cook it down a bit, to evaporate off some of the alcohol and to dissolve anything stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the oregano and tomato paste and simmer, covered, a half hour on low, stirring occasionally. If the mixture is too thick and is sticking to the pot, you can add more wine while it is simmering. Right before serving, season with black pepper and, if desired, with the fresh basil. Layer the sauce over the spaghetti squash and top with more Parmesan. Serve at once or reheat in the casserole dish.