How do you feel about spaghetti squash? Do you consider it a bad joke of a vegetable, promising carbs without remorse, but actually offering a bowl of slippery, slimy strings? Or do you love it for its teasing imitation of spaghetti, still holding its own with sweetness and a toothsome bite?
Actually — never mind. I don't really care how you feel about spaghetti squash. Because I know how everyone feels about spaghetti carbonara, and this baked spaghetti squash carbonara is going to warm your pasta-loving heart in exactly the same way. Except, with way fewer calories. And isn't that really the point of spaghetti squash, if we're all being honest?
A few years ago I wrote a big book on healthier casseroles, called Not Your Mother's Casseroles (no canned cream of chicken soup, I promise). In the process of developing 225 recipes I scavenged about for every last way to pack vegetables into casseroles, and eventually lit upon spaghetti squash. I wrote a recipe that mixed up spaghetti squash, ricotta, and a few sprigs of sage, and banged it into the oven. I didn't have high hopes, to be honest, but its tender, rich, and creamy texture made it one of my favorite recipes in the book.
This casserole came to mind, suddenly, as I sat at a traffic light on the way to the grocery store, and I had a massive brainwave: spaghetti squash carbonara. Could I turn spaghetti squash into everyone's favorite eggy, porky, over-the-top delicious pasta dish? Just maybe.
I started by consulting a few authentic pasta carbonara recipes, beginning with Sara Kate's. True spaghetti carbonara has just a few simple ingredients: eggs, cured pork, fresh-grated Parmesan or Pecorino, and a hefty dose of black pepper.
I stuck closely to the classic elements, mixing eggs and Parmesan with spaghetti squash strings scraped out of the baked halves, but I also added a cooked onion and a dollop of ricotta to make up for the lack of richness in plain baked squash.
I baked it until crisp and golden on top, then dug in. It hit every note I look for in spaghetti carbonara: peppery, creamy, bits of rich bacon mixed in. And yet it didn't weigh me down in the same way. I have nothing against pasta — love the stuff — but this baked carbonara is a new favorite in the house. Even my pasta-desirous husband gobbled it up. It might not be pasta, but it's some serious carbonara. Spaghetti squash lovers (and haters), rejoice!
Baked Spaghetti Squash Carbonara
Makes 10 1-cup servings
1 medium spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds)
8 ounces bacon (8 to 10 slices), diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 large eggs
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups Parmesan cheese, or mix of Parmesan and Pecorino, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Heat the oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise with a sharp chef's knife. Scrape out the seeds and seed flesh with a spoon and discard. Pour 1/2 cup water into a 9x13-inch baking dish and place the squash cut-side down in the water. Roast for 45 minutes or until tender. (Get step-by-step instructions: How To Cook Spaghetti Squash in the Oven.)
In a heavy skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until the edges crisp. Add the onions and cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until soft and beginning to brown. Remove from the heat.
In a large bowl whisk the eggs, then whisk in the ricotta. Fold in the cooked bacon and onions, then 1 cup of grated cheese and the salt and pepper.
When the squash can be easily pierced with a fork, remove it from the oven and turn the heat up to 375°F. Remove the squash from the baking dish and let it cool slightly. Dump out any water left in the baking dish, wipe it dry, and then grease it lightly with cooking spray.
Shred the inside of the squash with a fork into spaghetti-like strings and remove from the outer shell. You should have approximately 6 cups. Mix the squash strings into the egg-and-onion mixture. Spread in the baking dish and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.
→ Make-ahead: At this point you can cover the dish and refrigerate overnight.
Bake for 45 minutes or until firm and golden on top.
This post was originally published February 2014.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)