Posts Tagged ‘squash’

Guilt-Free Zucchini Pizza Boats

I have a quick low-carb, low-fat meal that you can make in a jiffy if you are craving pizza. It’s also a great way to sneak in some veggies if you live with a picky eater. It may even be kid-friendly, but I have not tested it on kids so I can’t say that with certainty.

I try to avoid pizza altogether because I have absolutely no portion control when it comes to pizza. A large pepperoni with mushrooms and olives can disappear in 20 minutes if placed in front of me. I could never consume an equal amount of pasta, burgers, burritos, or cakes, but you put a pizza near me and I just can’t stop! I LOVE pizza, and am happy I can now get my pizza fix guilt-free.

For this recipe, I used 1 pound of group beef added to store-bought Marinara sauce and served it over regular pasta for my husband. Since pasta is on the “No” list when it comes to Paleo eating, I had to change it up a bit for myself. Technically, cheese isn’t Paleo either, but I had to cheat a little bit. Don’t tell. :) If you do not have a pasta eater in the house, I would suggest making the same amount of sauce and serving the leftovers with spaghetti squash.

Guilt-Free Zucchini Pizza Boats
Makes 4 boats (with leftover sauce)

Try these the morning after you make them and enjoy cold "pizza" for breakfast!

Try these the morning after you make them
and enjoy cold “pizza” for breakfast!

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Your favorite brand of pasta sauce – I used about half of a 24 oz jar of Marinara
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cut the zucchini in half and use a spoon to scoop out some of the flesh. You want to leave at least 1/4 inch thickness so that your zucchini boats hold up when you pick them up to eat them.
  2. In a pot, cook the onions and garlic for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Add the ground beef and brown. Add the pasta sauce and heat through.
  3. Fill the raw zucchini with meat sauce and bake in a 325˚ oven for 8 minutes.
    Note: Do not cook the zucchini beforehand. I did this the first time around and while it still tastes great, it can’t be eaten as a “boat.” Zucchini has a high water content so if you cook it too long it gets flimsy and will need to be eaten with a knife and fork.
  4. AFter 8 minutes, top with cheese and bake for an additional 3 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling.
  5. I did not have any fresh basil on hand, but if you happen to have some lying around, garnish with fresh basil!

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

Internet, this is quite possibly the highlight of my culinary experiments in the kitchen!

I love spaghetti squash. I always have one on hand. I usually use it as an alternative to pasta, especially now that I am trying to eat as gluten-free as possible. However, lately I have grown a bit bored with the same old sauce recipe. I started to think of dishes containing noodles that spaghetti squash might be a good substitute for. Phó? No. Fettuccine Alfredo? Ehh. Casseroles? Possibly. Just as I was running out of ideas, I drove past a Thai restaurant and it hit me. Pad Thai!

I got home and immediately began Googling pad Thai recipes. Sheese! Pad Thai is a difficult dish to make. It takes precise timing, accurate measurement, and all kinds of fancy ingredients that one normally does not have on hand. Tamarind paste. Fish sauce. Palm sugar. Who knew?

Some day I’d love to make it from scratch, but on this particular evening, I used a store-bought sauce. No need to reinvent the wheel, folks. A quick note on store-bought pad Thai sauces. If you are cooking for someone with a gluten allergy, be sure to read the labels! This particular sauce did not have soy sauce in it. However, some do, even though soy sauce is not used in traditional pad Thai. I imagine this is a less expensive substitute for fish sauce, but who knows. Companies put all sorts of wacky things into food that shouldn’t be there nowadays. Anyway, the point is that soy sauce would void this from being a gluten-free dish. Kikkoman now makes a gluten-free soy sauce so if you are interested in making pad Thai from scratch, it is possible to make it gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan by using that as a substitute.

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai
Serves 4

Cucina Kristina | Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

!!!

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash, roasted
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 2 cups of bean sprouts
  • 3-4 stalks of green onion, sliced
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup of store-bought Pad Thai sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Peanuts
  • Limes
  • Coconut oil

Note: Traditional pad Thai also calls for egg. I happened to be out of eggs when I made this and it still tasted great! I will probably continue to omit the egg when I make this in the future because I don’t think the texture of egg and the texture of spaghetti squash together would be very good. 

Preparation:

Prepare all of your ingredients and have them handy. Once you start cooking, this dish comes together in a few minutes.

  1. Roast and shred spaghetti squash. This takes about an hour, but can be done ahead of time.
  2. Shred carrots using a box grater. You can also buy carrots pre-shredded at the grocery store.
  3. Slice green onions and mince garlic. Set aside most of the green onion for garnish. Reserve about a tablespoon for the first cooking step.

Directions:

  1. Melt about a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large fry pan. Cook garlic and green onion for about 3 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add the carrots and cook for 1-2 minutes to heat them through.
  3. Add spaghetti squash and pad Thai sauce. Cook until heated through, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the spaghetti squash/carrot mixture.

Plating:

  1. Place spaghetti squash and carrot mixture onto a plate.
  2. Top with bean sprouts.
  3. Garnish with green onion, cilantro, and chopped peanuts.
  4. Serve with lime wedges for those that like extra lime flavor.

Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds

Are there any curry lovers out there? I am dying to share this recipe with someone because it is hearty, comforting, and oh so tasty. It’s the type of soup that warms you from the inside out. I threw it together on a whim last night and apparently nobody in my life likes curry!  More for me, right?

Before we get to the recipe, I want to share a couple of notes about this soup and some substitution ideas. First, I used an acorn squash because it is what I had on hand. If you are new to using squash and do not have good knife skills, substitute with a butternut squash. The butternut squash is infinitely easier to peel and has a similar taste. If squash is not your thing, substitute with sweet potatoes. If neither squash nor sweet potatoes are your thing, try my chicken tortilla soup.

Second, this soup has an intense curry flavor. If you like curry, but you do not love curry, cut back to 1 teaspoon and use vegetable broth and water as the base instead of just straight water. As the soup is cooking, taste and add more curry as desired. Remember that it is easier to add more of an ingredient than to try to balance it out after the fact.

Third, do not throw out the squash seeds! The seeds are edible just like pumpkin seeds. For some reason, people do not think about toasting the seeds of other squashes, but they make a wonderful soup garnish or can be used on salads or as an on-the-go snack. I flavored my seeds with salt and Chinese five spice, but you can use anything you like to season your seeds. Some spices that compliment curry are cinnamon, ginger, chili powder, cumin, or cloves.

Now, on to the soup! This is the type of soup that you will want to make on a chilly winter day. The mere smell of curry warms my body as it seeps throughout the house. I almost can’t wait for the first real snowfall so I can make it again. This soup would be a great starter to a Thanksgiving meal even though the flavors are not necessarily traditional. By the way, how is Thanksgiving THIS Thursday? Where does the time go?

Just before serving, I added a tablespoon of chili paste. I use Huey Fong, which is the same company that makes Sriracha (aka rooster sauce). I think the chili paste adds a nice layer of heat to this soup. For you spicy food haters, I would not describe the flavor chili paste adds to this soup as spicy at all. It is not going to burn your mouth and make your eyes water, it just adds a little kick and enhances the overall flavor of this soup. Give it a try! If you are nervous about adding chili paste to the entire pot of soup, you can always put it on the table and have guests add it to their individual bowls as desired.

Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Cucina Kristina | Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds

Warms you from the inside out!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 acorn squash, peeled and cubed (see substitution ideas above)
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (see substitution ideas above)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste (optional)
  • 1 1/2 quarts water

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, cook onions and garlic in melted coconut oil, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add ginger and cook for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add carrots and squash and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add the curry and cumin and cook for about a minute. This will toast the spices and open their flavor.
  5. Add water and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes or until lentils are cooked through and vegetables are tender.
  6. If using, add 1 tablespoon of chili paste just before serving.
  7. Serve warm and garnish with spiced acorn squash seeds.

Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds

Ingredients:

  • Coconut oil
  • Chinese five spice (see substitution ideas above)
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. Rinse and dry the seeds from 1 acorn squash.
  2. Melt coconut oil in a small bowl and toss the seeds to coat evenly. If you do not have coconut oil, you can use olive oil.
  3. Add 1 generous pinch of Chinese five spice and toss to evenly distribute.
  4. Spread seeds onto a baking sheet lined with foil and sprinkle with salt to taste.
  5. Roast in a 375˚ oven for about 12 minutes. All ovens vary so you will want to watch the seeds and check on them periodically. They are done when they look toasted and golden brown.

Mediterranean Zucchini Cups

I made these on a whim for lunch yesterday and had to share them with you! They were inspired by this post from Peas & Crayons. I used slightly different ingredients and served mine raw, but I am dying to try the baked version she posted.

I’ve been on a zucchini kick lately because we managed to save one of our zucchini plants from the vine borer attack. Yay! We cut the root of the plant above the infected portion and stuck it in a bucket of water. In about 2 weeks, the plant grew a ton of new roots and we were able to replant it! The process seemed to be akin to regrowing green onions. It hasn’t sprouted any flowers yet, but I am hopeful it will make a comeback!

As for the recipe, the number of servings you get will depend on the size of your zucchini. Generally speaking, you should get about 10 individual cups out of a medium-large zucchini. This would make for a great healthy appetizer or a tasty mid-day snack. The recipe below has less than 300 calories. Can’t beat that!

Mediterranean Zucchini Cups

Mediterranean Zucchini Cups - Great healthy appetizer or mid-day snack. Under  300 calories | cucinakristina.com

Under 300 Calories!

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-large zucchini
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/4 cup fat-free Feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt & pepper

Directions:

  1. Slice zucchini into 1 1/2-inch rounds. Keep the skin on.
  2. Using a melon baller or small spoon, scoop out the middle of the zucchini to make a cup.
  3. Dice tomato, cucumber, and shallot. In a small bowl, combine with feta and toss with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.
  4. Scoop mixture into zucchini cups and top with basil.

Zucchini Pickles: Recipe from the Zuni Café

About a month ago, I posted this photo on my Facebook page.

Cucina Kristina: Zucchini Blossom

Our first zucchini blossom!

About two weeks later, our baby zucchini sprouts turned into these huge plants.

Cucina Kristina: Zucchini

Holy Zucchini!

What you can’t see in this photo are the two equally large plants in the box next to this one. I began scouring Pinterest for zucchini recipes, convinced that I was going to have zucchini coming out of my ears. I even started planning a zucchini themed dinner party. I was going to use zucchini in each dish and was going to pass out the recipes and let my guests take home zucchini as a party gift. However, shortly after taking the photo above, I noticed this little guy.

Cucina Kristina: Cucumber Beetle

Nooooo!!!

For those of you that do not know what that is, it is a squash vine borer moth. Ugh! From this point on, I became a vigilante. I checked the leaves of my zucchini (I had 6 plants in total) every morning and every evening. After the initial sighting, I never saw another moth. I thought I was in the clear.

Then, earlier this week as I was watering the plants, I reached in to harvest a zucchini and saw this:

Cucina Kristina: Vine Borers

The vine borers have attacked!

They got me for the second year in a row! I checked out the plant next to it. Infected. I went to the third plant. Infected! As were the fourth, fifth, and sixth. Those borers got every single one of my zucchini plants. Ugh!

I did manage to salvage a few zucchini before having to rip all of the plants out of the ground. The upside.

There are tons of ways to enjoy zucchini, but my favorite over the years has been to pickle it. If you have never made homemade pickles, you should definitely give it a try. Anyone can pickle because it really is as easy as 1, 2, 3. How easy?

  1. Can you boil water?
  2. Can you measure spices?
  3. Can you slice vegetables?

Yes, yes, and yes? Congratulations, you can pickle!

The recipe below was published in the LA Times in 2008 and is courtesy of the Zuni Café in San Francisco, California. San Francisco is such an amazing town for food. You literally cannot get a bad meal in San Francisco. It’s impossible.

Cucina Kristina: Market Street SF

I left my heart in San Francisco

If I can ever convince my husband to move back to California, we’re headed for the Bay Area.

Cucina Kristina: Golden Gate Bridge SF

November in California

Zucchini Pickles
Recipe from the July 23, 2008 LA Times

Cucina Kristina: Zucchini Pickles

Zucchini Pickles. So Sweet. So Tangy

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound zucchini
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
  • Scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • NOTE: I added 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns and 1 teaspoon ground ginger. 
  • NOTE 2: You do not need a mandolin. I have made these as rounds and as spears. This is just how the recipe was printed. Don’t let the mandolin deter you from making these amazing zucchini pickles!

Directions:

  1. Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice them one-sixteenth-inch thick; a mandolin works best. Slice the onion very thin as well. Combine the zucchini and onions in a large but shallow nonreactive bowl (this just means not metal – something like glass, ceramic, or plastic), add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt.
  2. After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini — it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.
  3. Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. (If the brine is too hot, it will cook the vegetables and make the pickles soft instead of crisp.)
  4. Return the zucchini to a dry bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickle to jars, seal tightly, and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color.

Garden Update: Squash Vine Borers – 1, Red Kuri – 0

We suffered our first garden casualty this week. Our Red Kuri Squash plant was a little warrior, but he was no match for the evil squash vine borers. Like most moth species, I am sure the adults exist to pollinate plants, but these suckers are detrimental to squash plants, and I can’t help but think they are anything but E-V-I-L. This is the first year we planted squash so now we know how to combat these pests for next year.

I am especially sensitive to the passing of the squash plant because our garden has taken quite a hit this year with all the crazy weather we have had in Chicago. These plants have survived an unseasonably cold spring, an intense hail storm with golf ball sized hail, monsoon style winds, torrential downpours, and extreme heat. We have experienced every bad weather element that can kill a garden in a span of three months and my plants have persevered through all of it.

About 3 weeks ago, we noticed the leaves of our squash plant starting to wilt. We didn’t think anything of it at the time because it happened to coincide with an intense heat wave sweeping through Chicago. We had a string of 100+ degree days with super high humidity and, at one point, the low never dropped below 80 degrees. We attributed the wilting squash leaves to the extreme heat because most of the other plants weren’t looking so hot either; however, as the heat broke and the rain came through, all of the plants bounced back, except the squash. After about a week, we noticed the leaves of the plant starting to turn yellow and knew something was up.

Wilting leaves – sign #1

If you have wilting and yellowing leaves that do not appear to get better when you water, chances are you have a vine borer. The adult moth lays its eggs neat the base of the plant. When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the stem and begin to feed. As they get fatter, they block water from reaching the leaves, hence the wilting. The good news is you can extract these pests from your plant by slicing the plant lengthwise, looking inside the vine, and picking them out. They will look like this:

Squash vine borer larvae

If the vine looks like the photo above, you can probably extract the larvae and bury the vine to protect it while it heals. However, if you have about 15 of those things inside your plant, they will completely demolish it, and those suckers work fast! Within a week or two of noticing the first signs of wilting they had done this to the root of the plant.

Probably not salvageable

Here is a closer shot of the damage the vine borers can do. As you can see, they turn a hearty vine into dust!

Ugh! Definitely not salvageable.

If you catch this early, there is a chance you can save your plant; however, we pulled nearly 20 of these devilish little guys out of the vines and ended up having to uproot the entire thing. :(

Luckily, the rest of our plants seem to be doing well. Take a look at our broccoli. Am I the only one that didn’t know how freaking bushy these things get?! That seems like a lot of leaf for a small amount of broccoli head. I thought maybe we could sauté the leaves like you would with beet greens, but after Googling this idea it seems the leaves are bitter, tough, and not very tasty. Such a shame!

It’s a pity the leaves aren’t very tasty.

We also have a mystery pepper, which is kind of exciting! The tag at the greenhouse claimed this was a Habanero chili, but you can tell by its shape that it is definitely not a Habanero. One of them has turned yellow so that rules out a few possible pepper varieties. We are waiting to see if it turns orange or red in the next couple of days, but if anyone out there knows what type of chili this is leave me a comment.

Any pepper experts out there know what this is?

We also have some wild fennel growing unexpectedly behind the garage. I love me some fennel so I am really stoked about this. We grew fennel near the garage last year, but the pH level or something in our soil must have been off because we ended up with tons of fennel stalks, but shriveled and inedible roots. Gardening over the past two years has been quite a learning experience for us!

Wild fennel. We should probably weed some of those vines.

While I have your attention, I would like to take a second to brag about the trellis Jesse built for our tomatoes. Unless you pay a pretty penny for them, trellises are not very attractive to the eye. The wood cost ~$20 and definitely looks much nicer than the wire ones we started the plants on. We used cedar wood, the same wood we used to build our raised garden beds.

DIY cedar wood trellis

This photo was taken a few weeks ago, but the tomato plants haven’t been producing fruit like they have in past years. Typically, we have to many tomatoes we don’t know what to do with them all. This year… not so much. But then again, I am not exactly patient when it comes to waiting for plants to grow.

Do you have any garden woes you would like to share? How about garden successes? Let’s see those photos! 

Pasta Alternative: Spaghetti Squash

I love pasta. LOVE it. However, like all good things, pasta must be consumed in moderation. You mean eating pasta four times a week instead of six times a week isn’t moderation? You lie!

Fortunately, I have a fantastic pasta alternative to introduce you. You may have even passed it a few times in the produce section without knowing it. It’s hearty, it’s very filling, and it only has 42 calories per cup. It even twirls on your fork like pasta.

It's a pasta impersonator!

It’s spaghetti squash, it looks like this, and it can be found near the onions, garlic, and potatoes in your grocery store. Many stores carry this year-round even though the peak season for squash is fall.

Spaghetti Squash

There are two methods for preparing spaghetti squash. The first is to roast it whole, and the second is to roast it in halves. If you do not have an extremely sharp knife, roast it whole. Spaghetti squash has a tough outer skin and, until it is roasted, the flesh is thick and tough as well. When I say you need an extremely sharp knife to cut it in half, I mean it. I used a cleaver and still struggled slightly.

Whole Roasted Spaghetti Squash – Method 1

The skin looks toasted and the edges turn brown when the squash is done.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Using a metal skewer or sharp knife, pierce the squash 7 or 8 times so it doesn’t explode when you roast it. Note: I have no idea if the squash will actually explode if you do not pierce it, but the holes help steam the interior of the squash.
  3. Roast on a baking sheet for about an hour. It may take a little longer depending on the size of your squash. You will know it is done when the skin of the squash looks toasted and parts of it start to brown. The squash will also be tender to the touch. Note: When in doubt, roast it another 10-15 minutes. You can’t really over roast the squash unless you leave it in there so long that it starts to burn. 
  4. When you remove the squash from the oven it will be VERY hot so make sure you handle it with oven mitts. Cut the squash in half and let cool for about 10 minutes or until you can touch it without burning your hands.
  5. Using a spoon, scrape out the center portion where the seeds are. Once it is clean, use a fork to scrap out the flesh of the squash. The flesh will be stringy, hence the name spaghetti squash.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash – Method 2

42 calories per cup compared to 174 calories per cup of cooked whole wheat pasta

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Using an extremely sharp knife, slice the spaghetti squash in half. It is easier to slice if you cut off the top creating a flat surface.

If you wish, you can save, clean, and toast the seeds.

  1. Using a spoon, scrape the seeds and stringy bits from the center of the squash.

All cleaned out.

  1. Place cut side down in a baking dish. Fill baking dish 1/3 way full of water and cover with tin foil.
  2. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about an hour.
  3. Let squash cool for about 10 minutes after you remove it from the oven until you can handle it. Using a fork, scrape out the flesh of the squash.

Top your spaghetti squash with sauce as you would regular pasta. If you are trying to lose weight or want a gluten-free pasta alternative, you really can’t go wrong with spaghetti squash. Because of the low calorie count, you can get away with toppings you normally may have to omit–like cheese!

The sauce I used is from The Post Punk Kitchen. You can also find it in the post below.

Do you have any favorite pasta alternatives?