Whenever I make a casserole, I always have a vague feeling that I’m cooking something that is hopelessly unfashionable. There’s no proof of this except that I don’t find many other food bloggers banging away at descriptions of luscious and indulgent casseroles. And, other than Deborah Madison, who seems to have a real affection for them, few print-based food writers pay them much attention either.
There are good reasons for this, I suppose. Casseroles don’t photograph very well, a serious drawback in this visual age. They don’t demand any particular culinary skills, being closer to assembling than proper cooking. They don’t often showcase ingredients in their best lights.
And then there are the negative associations. I hear the word “casserole” and immediately envision some grey-green, lumpy thing made from Stovetop Stuffing mix, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and frozen spinach: something that I might have eaten back in 1982, maybe while listening to A Flock of Seagulls. And while that particular casserole had it charms (strange, but true), it isn’t something that I or very many other people want to cook in this more enlightened era.
However, it is useful to have one or two recipes for casseroles in the culinary repertoire and this doesn’t mean that we have to reconcile ourselves to using matchstick onions or Velveeta cheese. One of my favorite casseroles features spaghetti squash, that most mysterious member of the squash family, topped with a simple tomato sauce.
I’m not sure if using spaghetti squash renders this recipe utterly unfashionable or entirely cool. The point is that the resulting casserole tastes good, is easy to make, and is terribly nutritious. Besides, raking the squash into spaghetti-like strands fascinates small children and adults alike, something that is certainly cool.
So, say it loud and say it proud:
Spaghetti Squash Casserole (sort of Greek)
1 large or two small spaghetti squashes (2 pounds or so)
2 tbs. olive oil, divided
5 cloves of garlic, minced, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2 tbs. dry red wine (or beer, which is all I had on hand when I made it)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. Greek oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper (or crushed red pepper)
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
Kasseri cheese, grated, for the top of the casserole
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pierce the squash all around and place it into the hot oven on top of a rimmed cookie sheet. Cook for about one hour (or until the squash is fork-tender).
Meanwhile, in a sauce pan, heat up 1 tbs. olive oil on medium high heat. Sauté the onions until just soft (about 5 minutes); add 2/3 of the minced garlic and stir for one additional minute; and the spices and sauté for one more minute, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes, wine and water (if necessary). Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Adjust the seasonings; remove from heat and cool.
When the squash is fork-tender, remove from the oven. Carefully slice the squash into two halves lengthwise. There is a lot of steam inside–be careful not to burn yourself. Allow to cook for a few minutes. Remove the seeds and pulp. Do not turn off the oven.
Now the fun begins; rake the squash lengthwise with a fork. The strands should lift out of the spaghetti squash carcass fairly easily. Place forkfuls of them into a glass baking dish. I used a 9x7x2 dish made by Pyrex.
Toss squash with remaining olive oil, garlic, olives, feta, and salt & pepper to taste. Top with the tomato sauce. Grate kasseri cheese over the top. Bake, covered with aluminum foil, for 30 minutes. Remove foil & continue baking for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the casserole is nice and bubbly and the cheese is golden brown.
Gel up your hair and enjoy.