How to cook spaghetti squash to make the most of its noodle-like texture

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How to cook spaghetti squash to make the most of its noodle-like texture
Spaghetti squash develops a noodle-like texture when cooked.vm2002/Getty Images
  • Unlike other squash varieties, spaghetti squash has a stringy, pasta-like texture once cooked.
  • Baking a spaghetti squash best brings out the flavor but takes double the time of microwaving it.
  • Spaghetti squash isn't just a noodle substitute - it can be used in a wide range of recipes.

Spaghetti squash is not only gluten-free, nutrient-dense, and low in carbs, but it's an incredibly versatile food to cook with, and there are multiple ways to prepare it.

While cutting a spaghetti squash may be intimidating, cooking it is relatively simple, as long as you have the right tools and follow the expert-approved instructions below. Here's how to cut a spaghetti squash, and then bake it or microwave it, depending on your preference.

How to prepare a spaghetti squash

How to cook spaghetti squash to make the most of its noodle-like texture
Spaghetti squash seeds should be removed before cooking, but save them to roast as a snack.Laurie Ambrose/Getty Images

Cutting a spaghetti squash may feel like an overwhelming task given its sheer size and tough exterior. The following tips from Jason Hawk, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, will help you to cut this vegetable safely.

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1. Use a sharp knife. Cutting with a heavy, large knife, such as a chef's knife, will give you the ideal amount of control.

2. Use a flat, steady surface. Laying a damp cloth underneath a cutting board can stop it from slipping.

3. Slice off the ends. Removing the ends ensures that the squash is less likely to roll while you're cutting it, says Hawk.

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4. Carefully cut the squash in half. . Position the knife to cut the squash down the middle, from the top to bottom. Once the knife is inside the squash, you can use the weight of the knife to apply gentle pressure as you make one long cut.

5. Scoop out the seeds. Use a spoon to scrape all of the seeds out.

Quick tip: Just like pumpkin seeds, spaghetti squash seeds can be roasted for a crunchy snack.

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How to bake spaghetti squash

How to cook spaghetti squash to make the most of its noodle-like texture
When done, the squash should be fork-tender and the strands should separate easily.cislander/Getty Images

Roasting spaghetti squash in the oven may take longer than microwaving it, but this approach caramelizes the natural sugars in the squash to bring out the natural sweetness. Here are Hawk's step-by-step instructions on how to bake it.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Coat the cut side with oil and seasoning. Drizzle or brush a light coating of olive oil (or another preferred cooking oil), onto both halves of the spaghetti squash. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Lay the squash on a baking sheet. Place the squash cut-side down, with the skin facing up.
  4. Cook the squash until it's fork-tender. Baking could take anywhere from 35 minutes to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the squash. After 35 minutes have passed, poke the squash with a knife - if it slides in and out without resistance and the strands release easily, it's done. If not, continue baking and checking with the poke test every five minutes.
  5. Use a fork to scrape out the "noodles." Once the squash is cool enough to handle, gently run the fork along the inside to release the noodle-like strands.

Alternate method: In the microwave

Cooking your spaghetti squash in the microwave can cut down on cooking time, but Hawk warns you may compromise on taste.

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If you want to microwave your squash because you're short on time:

1. Prick the squash all over with a fork. Poking holes in the skin will allow steam to escape and heat to penetrate the thick skin more easily.

2. Place squash cut-side down in a microwave-safe baking dish.

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3. Fill the dish with about an inch of water.

4. Cover the baking dish with a microwave-safe lid.

5. Microwave on high for 10 to 15 minutes until fork-tender. Remember to use pot holders when removing the baking dish from the microwave. The strands should pull apart effortlessly, and have the texture of al dente pasta.

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If you have a small microwave or are cooking a large squash, you may need to cook the halves separately. In that case, aim for about 10 minutes per half.

How to pick a spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash in season from early fall through the winter, peaking in October and November, according to Hawk.

A spaghetti squash is usually ready to be cooked if it's turned a deep golden yellow color, says Hawk. To test the ripeness, you can also try pushing your fingernail into the skin: a mature squash will have developed a tough exterior, making it harder to puncture. If your fingernail penetrates the skin easily, it likely needs more time to ripen.

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How to use spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash is a popular pasta substitute thanks to its noodle-like structure, but there are many other ways to use this vegetable. Fluff up the strands and use the whole half as the base of a burrito bowl. Griddle the cooked strands until crispy like hash browns. Add it into muffins or quick breads a la zucchini bread. Use it in stews, chili, salads, or frittatas. Cook it down with milk to make a breakfast porridge.

Hawk's favorite way to use spaghetti squash is in a casserole, which you can customize with your preferred vegetables, legumes, meats, seasonings, and sauces. "It gives a pleasant texture as well as a sweet, nutty flavor when weaved through the dish," he says.

Insider's takeaway

Spaghetti squash is versatile enough to be used in a wide variety of dishes and can be cooked both in the oven and the microwave.

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To cut a squash safely, consider using a chef's knife (or something comparable), laying a damp towel underneath your cutting board, and removing the ends first.

While baking spaghetti squash will enhance the flavor more, microwaving it can take significantly less time.

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