Sunday, October 16, 2011

(Hi)Story of Spaghetti....Squash

There is a history between me and Spaghetti Squash: a fall vegetable that looks like a smallish, oblong fruit I knew of as 'phoot (or fruit) kakdi' in Rajasthan. My extensive googling has not  got any hit to explain this fruit (the phhot kakdi; I mean) to you. So, to draw for you a mental picture, imagine a dull orange colored obling/ elliptical, smooth skinned fruit (sometimes with dark brown stripes along its length), about 8 inches in diameter at its widest. When cut open, the insides reveal very thin skin,   bright orange, melony-flavored flesh and a core that looks just like a melon. The taste, is somewhat in between that of a kakdi (not cucumber- but the long, light green kakdis of North India), and a not-so-sweet melon.  Or, if you know a spaghetti squash; then imagine that on the outside and a not-so-sweet melon on the inside.

My dad loved phoot kakdi. This is (was) a summer fruit in Rajasthan and every year, as our annual summer vacation came to an end, we'd get a letter from daddy (this was pre-telephone era...my dad wrote us a letter every week!!) reminding us to bring back a bunch of phoot kakdis for him. Phoot kakdi was notoriously short-lived, both in terms of season and shelf - life, so it was always a big challenge selecting the fruit that would make it through the overnight train journey to Delhi with temperatures exceeding a 100 degrees. 

The first time my dad came to visit me in USA was when my older daughter was born, and it was Spaghetti squash time here. He was so sure that this strange named fruit was his favorite phoot kakdi, that he insisted we buy 2 of them. And he couldn't wait to eat them. We knew something was wrong as soon as we cut open the first one - the skin was too brittle, flesh; too hard, and the melony fragrance of the phoot kakdi was strikingly absent. "Maybe, it isn't ripe enough". So my mom wrapped the second one in a bunch of newspapers and kept in the sunniest spot of my apartment. A week later, it ended up where the first one had - in the trash. My dad was so disappointed.....

Five years later; I was using this story to defend my resistance to trying new foods to my lunch-buddies. I never made it past the description of this mystery fruit (I'd forgotten its name by then). 'I'm sure you're talking about Spaghetti squash'; Jen said. The very next day she brought some Spaghetti Squash with brushetta for me to try out at lunch.  And I was hooked. Very apprehensively, but with her encouragement, I did buy another Spaghetti Squash that year, and prepared it the way she told me to. And I loved it again....and again..... now it's on my table at least 3-4 times every season.

Spaghetti Squash with caramelized onions,
 oregano and chives


Spaghetti Squash: 1 medium
Tomato 1 large
Small onion 1 diced
Fresh oregano 2 sprigs coarsely chopped
Fresh chives  3-4 sprigs coarsely chopped
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sugar a dash
Olive oil 1 Tbsp
Grated parmesan (to sprinkle; optional)

  1. Cut the squash in half length wise. Put cut-side up in a microwavable dish with about an inch of water and microwave on high for 10-12 min.
  2. Meanwhile, in a non stick pan, take olive oil and saute the onions till just tender. Sprinkle a dash of sugar, and stir till just caramelized to a light brown. Remove from pan immediately.
  3. In the oil remaining after sauteeing onions, add the tomatoes, fresh oregano and chives and season with salt and pepper. Stir till just warmed through and then keep aside.
  4. When the squash is cool enough to handle, remove the core with seed and pith. Then using a fork or a wide spoon, start scaping the flesh. It will come apart as long spaghetti-like strands. Remove all the flesh that you can.
  5. In a salad bowl, toss together the spaghetti squash, herbed tomatoes and caramelized onions. Check the seasonings, sprinle some grated parmesan and serve.
My two cents: This isn't the original 'Jen' recipe. She'd told me to "buy a jar of brushetta at Acme and toss it with spaghetti squash", which is exactly what I did the first couple of times. Then I started experimenting. All I'd say is that spaghetti squash is very accomodating. It sort of blends in every flavor that I've tried with it.  I toss in any and every herb that I may have on hand, and the dish tastes great. A's reaction to these salads is usually a quiet one; but he does take second helpings...so I sort of take that as a sign that he likes it. I love it; and the girls refuse to try it. This time, I made the salad for the first time for my MIL; and she liked it (she took second helpings- quietly!!).

As for phoot kakdi, I still don't know what it's English or scientific name is. And I haven't had a chance to eat it in over two decades. As I wrote this piece, I could see us on a train coming back to Delhi with carefully-selected- by- naani treats for my dad. I'm hoping that some of you who read this will know what I'm talking about, and will tell me if they know of another name for it.

In the meanwhile, try out Spaghetti Squash this fall...it's fun to see perfect spagheeti noodles come out when you scrape the insides. And if you're a first time user; look for it in the squash-pumpkin section of your supermarket, plus each squash has a sticker with it's name on it.

Linked to Global Food festival at Sizzling Tastebuds