Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Bake

So here’s a recipe that evolved from the Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK. A time when cooks all over the country looked to inventive uses of what they just had to hand on a daily basis.

I don’t know when my love of spaghetti squash developed but it’s become strong enough for me to attempt to grow my own for the last couple of summers here in the UK. I love squashes anyway – they’re fun to grow, there are so many varieties and they keep well into the next year once harvested in some cases, so it’s a nice reminder that you’ve grown something yourself long after the temperatures have plummeted and the vegetable patch is just a sad reminder of the fact that it’s bloody cold outside and probably raining.

And, more importantly, squashes can get friendly with so many ingredients and flavours, but whilst many pair particularly nicely with pasta, the beauty of spaghetti squash is that – as the name suggests – it can replace it, or noodles. So you get a lovely meal out of them, without any of the guilt of a great big bowl of carbs.

That said, my growing efforts haven’t been the strongest – for some reason (soil quality?) so far I’ve only managed to get one fruit from each plant I’ve grown – in this current lockdown I’m awaiting this year’s seeds to germinate so with creativity in the kitchen very much needed, the time came to utilise the last squash from last year. So they’re sort of precious when I do come to cook with them. And the last of the crop from last summer…she’s a beauty (yes, this is still in prime condition in April the year after being harvested – tell me what’s not to love about this squash!).

As you can see, she’s also a monster. I should have done a scale photo really. Line her up against a ruler, a five pound note and a newspaper just to prove that she’s real. All 2.2k of her.

I should probably also stop humanising the things I cook with….!

Anyway. I wanted to do this beautiful thing justice – I grew it from seed after all, and they’re not the most commonplace thing to find in the UK supermarkets, though if you can get one I really recommend you take the opportunity.

But that said – I didn’t really fancy just simply using it to swap out for pasta. I just fancied something with more depth than a pasta sauce, something super healthy (and lockdown waistline friendly) but also something with some serious flavour. But I was working, like so many home cooks in the UK and world, with a limited pantry.

Queue the humble tin of black beans.

Perfect combination! They were just lurking innocuously at the back of the stock of tinned goods I had kicking about, but the second I saw them I knew I had the perfect partner for my star ingredient.

You’ve got that lovely, slightly sweet canvas of the spaghetti squash, with the smokiness of black beans. But I was also after more texture…And so I toddled off to the freezer – more sweetness from some frozen sweetcorn – and the fridge – where half a mozzarella round needed utilising before it was too late.

Things were coming together too easily. But I wanted to emphasise that smokiness from the beans, so I also raided the spice rack. I’m not afraid to admit there are always garlic granules kicking around – and why not? At times like this, hacks like garlic granules are lifesavers for what might otherwise become a bland meal out of necessity.

The real key here is that I was lucky enough to still have some cheddar kicking around that also badly needed using up – the quantities seem like a lot (but adjust to the size of squash you’re working with) – but spaghetti squash and cheese get along VERY well.

So basically this is my favourite use of a patiently grown, lovingly nurtured and much appreciated spaghetti squash. It’s comforting yet healthy, just as filling as a bowl of pasta, good for vegetarians (I haven’t personally tested it with vegan cheese though).

Is it the prettiest dish in the world? Christ no. But it tastes fantastic and boasts plenty of nutritional benefits. Sometimes the best things come in unexpected packaging. And I like to think it has it’s own rustic charm.

So if you come across a spaghetti squash and fancy trying something new with it, I’d really recommend this. It’s gorgeous served with some Cajun-spiced potato wedges (which I know is sort of replacing those pasta carbs but for an early summer dinner it works really well!)

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4 easily

½ spaghetti squash – the monster I managed to grow was 2.2 kilos, so effectively I’ve worked with a kilo half of a squash before the seeds and pulp were removed, so use the whole squash if yours is smaller

– (A tip on cutting them up – they can look daunting – insert the tip of a sharp knife across the top in a few places, then gradually work the knife through to the softer centre – they’re really a lot easier to cut this way)

180g cheddar, grated / crumbled

1 tin of black beans, drained and rinsed

150g frozen sweetcorn (tinned would be fine though, and have also used leftover corn from a BBQ sliced off the cob)

½ ball of mozzarella, sliced

1 tsp each of ground cumin, paprika and garlic granules – this is store cupboard cookery after all

1 small red onion, diced

Maldon Sea Salt and fresh cracked black pepper (or ground if that’s all you have)

1 tbsp tomato puree

(In the spirit of lock-down cookery, you can swap things in and out here – white onion, shallots, fresh garlic if you have it (fry gently to take the edge off), diced peppers, broccoli…spaghetti squash is a lovely canvas for other great veg)

METHOD

First, bake the squash: place halves (or one if you’re dealing with a monster like me) in a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with Maldon Sea Salt and a generous grind of fresh cracked black pepper. Bake at 190 degrees in a fan oven for 40 minutes. Remove, leave to cool a bit, and then shred the squash with two forks.

If you’re working with a smaller squash, keep an eye on the time spent roasting – you want to get to a point whereby a sharp knife can just start to easily break into the flesh of the squash. It’s going to be cooked again, so you don’t want to let it get too cooked – just so that you can make that lovely, healthy spaghetti alternative from the flesh.

Put the shredded squash into a bowl with the other ingredients, mix up, season up again with a little sea salt and black pepper and put in a baking tray, layer over the slices of mozzarella (they love a little black pepper too!) and back in the oven with it – this time 200 degrees fan for 25 minutes.

Enjoy everyone!x

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