Zesty Spaghetti Squash alla Puttanesca

My mum has a real knack for creating fantastically flavourful dishes out of just a few simple ingredients. She’s not a vegetarian, and while she didn’t take kindly to it when I stopped eating meat as a teenager, eventually she warmed up to the idea of meatless cooking. Which is great for me, because she’s very good at it. Whether it’s a pizza with a homemade crust and topped with artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes and spinach, or a hummus with lots of garlic, lemon and olive oil, her cooking isn’t complicated but always tastes great. I’m lucky to have grown up in a household where meals were mostly made from scratch; it made me enjoy cooking from an early age and instilled in me a long lasting appreciation for fresh ingredients.

Another dish she makes often is puttanesca pasta, her version of which combines many of my favourite Mediterranean flavours: salty kalamata olives, pungent capers, sweet plum tomatoes and ample amounts of garlic and lemon. An olive oil, of course. It’s a simple, rustic dish that doesn’t require precise measurements and my mind never fails to be blown that such basic ingredients go into creating so flavourful a dish. Leave it to the Italians to figure out winning flavour combinations! For years my mum’s puttanesca has been my go-to recipe when I’m in the mood for a warm, starchy meal (which is often, especially this time of the year).

For years I assumed ‘puttanesca’ refers to the combination of ingredients used in the sauce. It wasn’t until recently that I looked into the etymology of the word and learned the dish (which originated in Naples in the 1960s) has a salacious history! Apparently ‘puttanesca’ translates as – and I hope my mum isn’t reading this – ‘in the style of the whore’! How’s that for a conversation starter around the dinner table? There are various theories as to why such a name would be ascribed to the dish, but the one I like best is that the pasta doesn’t take much time to prepare, so working girls could whip it up for themselves between clients without disrupting business for too long. Boo ya!

Seeing as squash are everywhere right now – and British Columbia squash are frigging delicious – I thought I’d put a different spin on my usual puttanesca recipe and use roasted spaghetti squash in place of pasta noodles. Don’t get me wrong now, I’m an unapologetic carbohydrate fanatic (is there such a thing as a vegetarian who isn’t?), so rare is the time that I make a concerted effort to reduce the starch content of a dish. I guess it’s the bold flavours of the capers and kalamata olives – and not scrimping on the olive oil – because I didn’t miss the carbs one bit! That being said, I think a fresh, crusty roll of some sort would work well on the side here 🙂 A roll and a bottle glass of red wine! Next time I’m making a liquor store run before making this recipe…

Note: I happened to use a rather small spaghetti squash for this recipe, but if you have a larger one on hand simply increase the amounts of the other ingredients accordingly 🙂

Recipe: Zesty Spaghetti Squash alla Puttanesca

Makes 2 meal-size servings or 4 smaller ones

Ingredients:

  • 1 small-ish spaghetti squash
  • 4 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoons red chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
  • 2 small shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup capers (I used the ones packed in brine)
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
  • 1/4 parmesan (or vegan parmesan), grated
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Roast spaghetti squash: Preheat oven to 400F. Cut squash in half length wise and scoop out seeds. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over each squash half and season with salt and pepper. Place squash cut-side down on a baking sheet and cook for 40 minutes or until flesh is tender. Remove from oven. Once squash has cooled enough to handle, scrape flesh from rind (making strands as long as possible) using a fork. Set aside until needed.

Finish puttanesca: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until soft. Add garlic and red chili flakes and saute just until garlic is golden brown. Add tomatoes, capers and olives and cook until tomatoes have softened. Reduce heat to low and add to squash, oregano and parsley to skillet and gently toss to combine with other ingredients. Remove from heat.

Serve, topping each portion with a sprinkle of parmesan (or vegan parmesan) and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

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