I have a rule about recipes: never trust one where the writer professes to hate the dish or a key ingredient in it. It's an easy angle for the recipe writer, who's usually trying to convince the reader that this version is what made them see the light, but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. And yet here I am, about to tell you of my lifelong dislike of spaghetti squash, and the journey I took to learn how to enjoy it, which culminated in—you guessed it—this absolutely lovely autumnal slaw.
"Dislike" isn't really the right word, though. My feelings about spaghetti squash run more along the lines of "complete apathy toward," or "utter indifference about," or "if spending all my time at a party talking to the most boring person is how we're defining fun, I guess it's kinda okay?" Because let's be honest, while dieters try to convince themselves otherwise, spaghetti squash is plain awful at the one main role it attempts to fill: a stand-in for spaghetti. As Sasha said to me one day, "If spaghetti had the texture of spaghetti squash, I'd never eat pasta." Truer words, truer words.
Still, I'm not one to dismiss even the most dismissal-worthy of things, so I bought a bunch of spaghetti squash and eyed it suspiciously. For weeks. Eventually I worked up enough motivation to actually cook them, which I did by roasting them as I would any winter squash: Glazed with oil, in a hot oven. Here are my tasting notes:
"Tastes like the stevia of squash. It's what AI would come up after being fed data on all gourds and then asked to generate a new one. And that texture...it's so disconcerting, crunchy like a raw vegetable WHILE HOT. Those strands...can people who hate clusters of small circles eat this?"
Mixed into those same notes were glimmers of a breakthrough. Weighing my options, I wondered whether it'd be better to embrace its vegetal crunch or force it into softness with a sustained assault of heat; whether I should fight everything spaghetti squash seems to represent by "saturating it in fat, drowning it in cheese" or embracing its subtler qualities. "Maybe it'd be better chilled and tossed with a dressing," I jotted down at one point.
That led me to this, a recipe that plays to spaghetti squash's strengths—because yes, it does have them. (No, not as fake pasta, please just forget about that.) A member of the cucurbita family, spaghetti squash combines the flavors and textures of a strange blend of close cousins: It has a hint of the sweet and earthy flavors of winter squash like butternut mixed with the fresh aroma and crispy bite of a cucumber.
I tried to cut a path that tied that unlikely mix of qualities together while enhancing them. Hazelnuts fried in olive oil add roasted and nutty notes that reflect the squash's earthier characteristics, while fresh mint and pomegranate seeds highlight its cucumber side with freshness and tart pops of fruity sweetness.
The spaghetti squash itself is simply roasted, allowed to cool, and then shredded to be mixed into the slaw, which can be served at room temp or chilled. Just please not hot, because I'm still not convinced spaghetti squash wants to be eaten that way. I'm thinking on it, though.
- One 3 1/2-pound (1.6kg) spaghetti squash
- 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on squash
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces; 70g) hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup (3 ounces; 85g) pomegranate seeds, plus more for garnish
- 15 fresh mint leaves, roughly torn, plus more for garnish
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Using a large knife, trim off stem end of spaghetti squash. Cut squash in half lengthwise, then scrape out and discard seeds. Arrange, cut side up, on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and rub all over until evenly coated. Season with salt.
Roast squash until its flesh can be pierced with a fork without much resistance but the squash retains an al dente texture, about 35 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup olive oil and hazelnuts in a medium skillet. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until nuts are lightly toasted and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir in cayenne and remove from heat.
When squash has cooled, use a fork to shred flesh into spaghetti-like strands, transferring them to a serving bowl as you go. Discard skins.
Stir in toasted hazelnuts and the oil along with the apple cider vinegar and pomegranate seeds. Season with salt, then stir in mint. Garnish with additional pomegranate seeds and mint leaves and serve right away.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The squash can be roasted up to 3 days in advance; once cooled, wrap tightly with plastic and refrigerate until ready to shred and assemble the salad. The hazelnuts can be toasted in the olive oil up to 3 days in advance; let cool, then refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use. The salad should be assembled just before serving, otherwise the pomegranate seeds and mint will darken and lose their freshness.