Make friends with spaghetti squash

The first time I cooked a spaghetti squash I was well into my 20s. And even though I was supposedly all grown up, I was as amazed as a child when I shredded the squash and really ended up with what looked like strands of spaghetti.It was magical.

But real spaghetti and spaghetti squash are only alike in their looks. Spaghetti squash has a neutral, almost bland taste, with just a hint of sweetness. Like mushrooms, the squash absorbs the flavors it's mixed with.

By itself, it's pretty boring. But so is plain pasta.

I love the idea of substituting squash for a starchy carbohydrate. And, frankly, I just love the squash.

My husband is not so much in love with it. Not unless it's mixed up with plenty of his other favorite foods, like sausage and cheese. And that's what I'm sharing with you today.

Preparing a spaghetti squash can be daunting, though, and time consuming.

The traditional way to cook a squash is to cut it in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, then drizzle some olive oil on the cut sides.

Then place the cut side down on a baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes to an hour in a 375 degrees Fahrenheit oven.The result is a nicely tender squash with just a hint of caramelization, making it a bit sweeter.

Now I really don't want to take the time to do all that. So, there are two other, quicker ways to prepare the squash: either the microwave or the Instant Pot pressure cooker.

With either method, instead of needing to cut the squash in half, which isn't easy to do, you just need to pierce the squash several times all over to release the steam.Even piercing the skin of the squash isn't easy; it's more like stabbing.

When using the pressure cooker, I place the pierced squash in the pot on a trivet. Place a cup of water in the pot, close the lid and set the manual setting for 15 minutes. Let the steam release naturally or set the quick release.

Whichever method you choose, it's a good idea to let the squash cool a bit before shredding the meat. Even then, you'll want to hold one squash half at a time with a hot pad, while you shred the squash with a fork.

When you're looking for a low carb meal, spaghetti squash fits the bill. It's also low in calories and full of beta carotene and Vitamin C. I wish I could say the same for pasta.

The squash is a pretty good pasta impersonator in this very simple, very easy fall recipe. You'll only miss the pasta a tiny bit.

Spaghetti squash casserole with sausage and cheese

Makes about 6 servings

1 spaghetti squash, about 3 pounds

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

teaspoon garlic powder

cup grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare the spaghetti squash. Pierce the squash about 10 times all over. Place on a trivet in an Instant Pot with one cup water. Close the lid and set the manual setting for 15 minutes. Let the steam release naturally when it's done or set the quick release.

When cool enough to handle, cut the squash in half and remove and discard the seeds. Holding one-half of the squash with a hot pad use a fork to shred the squash into spaghetti-like strands into a mixing bowl. Repeat with second half.

Crumble the sausage into a large frying pan and over medium heat, cook the sausage until no longer pink. Drain the sausage.

Mix the sausage, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and mozzarella cheese into the bowl and mix gently, but well.

Turn the mixture into a casserole dish and bake in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.n

(Wolbert is a former corporate communicator and English teacher, now indulging in her two loves, writing and cooking. She can be reached at rdwolbert@gmail.com or at her Sprigs of Rosemary Facebook page.)