Spaghetti Squash “Lasagna”: A Healthier (and Fun) Take on the Classic
When it comes to helpful home-cooked meals for busy working families, the mighty casserole tops the list: Throw one (or a few—they freeze well!) together on a weekend so that you have quick heat-and-eat dinners and brown-bag lunches throughout the week.
Of course, many of the typical go-tos (e.g., chicken tetrazzini, mac and cheese, creamy tuna noodle…) are loaded up with less than healthy ingredients. To boost the nutrition and lighten things up, our vegetarian “lasagna” recipe features all of the classic Italian casserole’s key flavors, but swaps out the usual noodles for in-season spaghetti squash (full recipe below). It’s a hearty, kid-friendly dish you can feel great about!
The ingredients list for this healthy belly-filler is packed with fiber, protein, and vitamins. Mild in flavor, cannellini beans (also known as white kidney beans) are easy to find at your local supermarket. Just add olive oil, tomato paste, and a few more spices to what you see here and you’ll have everything you need, but you can also include ground turkey, lean ground beef, or crumbled tofu or veggie sausage for additional protein.
The inside of a raw spaghetti squash looks like pretty much any other firm squash—but cook your golden gourd and, with a little help from a fork, the flesh comes out in thin ribbons or strands that resemble spaghetti! It provides tasty texture as well as a wide range of nutrients, like vitamin A (crucial for vision and bone growth), immune-boosting vitamin C, anti-inflammatory omega-3s, and folate, which helps make red blood cells and DNA.
1: Cut each spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Brush the squash halves with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place them on a large baking sheet, cut-side down.
2: Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until tender.
3: Use a fork to gently pull the squash flesh from the peel and separate it into spaghetti-like strands. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
After your squash is ready, it’s simply a matter of making the sauce and then mixing everything together with the cheese. It all goes in your casserole dish and then into the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with more cheese if you like, and you’re set.
In our centers, we embrace family-style eating—encouraging children to serve themselves teaches them important social skills (like passing items, sharing, being patient, and saying “please” and “thank you”) and how to listen to their own hunger cues. Allowing them to get in on the serving action can also inspire them to try new foods, like spaghetti squash!
When you’re ready to eat, place your casserole on the table with a large spoon. If there’s a chance the hot pan could burn wayward little hands, scoop the lasagna into a large serving bowl first. Encourage your child to fill her own bowl and top it with a sprinkle of cheese. For dinner conversation, consider chatting about other squashes you might like: ice cream squash, peanut butter squash, teddy bear squash, hundred dollar bill squash…
SPAGHETTI SQUASH “LASAGNA”
Serves: Approximately 6
Total time: 40 minutes prep/45 minutes cooking
- 3 small spaghetti squashes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 (24-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
- 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 12 ounces fresh baby spinach
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup basil, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Slice each spaghetti squash lengthwise. There’s actually a bit of a trick to this, as spaghetti squash tends to roll easily and the shell is quite hard and thick. But don’t give up before you’ve started! Instead, check out this how-to video from cookbook author Melissa Joulwan. Once the squashes are cut, scrape out the seeds with a spoon.
- Brush the 6 squash halves with a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Next, place them on a large baking sheet or in multiple casserole dishes, cut-side down, and bake 30–40 minutes, until tender—you’ll know they’re ready when you can easily use a fork to pierce through the flesh all the way to the peel.
- Remove the squashes from the oven (but leave the oven on at 400 degrees) and use a fork to gently pull the flesh from the peel and separate into spaghetti-like strands. The strands wrap around the squash horizontally—scraping your fork in the same direction as the strands will make the longest “noodles,” although that isn’t necessary for this recipe. Scrape all the flesh into a large mixing bowl and set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil on medium until it shimmers and moves like water. Add the diced onion and sauté 6–8 minutes until translucent. Mix in the garlic, red pepper flakes, and fennel seeds; cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, paprika, fresh oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir in the cannellini beans and spinach. Once the spinach begins to wilt, remove the skillet from the stove and pour or scoop the mixture into the large mixing bowl with the spaghetti squash. Add the ricotta and Parmesan, and thoroughly mix everything together.
- Pour the mixture into a large baking dish, and bake for 45 minutes until the cheese melts. Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil and 1/2 to 1 cup of Parmesan cheese.
- Serve family-style with a fresh green salad and crusty whole-grain bread. If the casserole dish is still hot, help kiddos serve themselves to keep little hands safe—or dish up the lasagna in a large serving bowl. Enjoy!