Comfort food. For some people, it’s a time-honoured family recipe, a plate of warm cookies or a bowl of mac n’ cheese. When I think of comfort food, I think of a big bowl of pasta. It doesn’t matter what type, whether it is a pile of gnocchi in tomato sauce, creamy fettuccine alfredo or a thick slice of lasagna, nothing says comfort to me more than pasta.
When I graduated form university, my mom and I took a trip to Italy. That trip to this day is still one of my favourites. For two weeks, we roamed the cobble-stone streets, explored museums and ruins and indulged in countless bowls of pasta, trays of pizza and carafes of vino. There were many things that drew me to Italy: the culture, the way of life, the food… all of it sucked me in. I loved Italian food in Canada, but I assumed that the real deal would be different. And, it definitely was. Gone were the thick crust, doughy pizzas. In their place were super thin, crispy crust pizzas, light on sauce and full on flavour. I assumed that if the pizza was different, the pasta would be different, too. In Italy, the pasta is the star. The noodles are freshly made by hand with care and attention to detail. Such labours of love are not meant to be covered in a thick, heavy sauce, but delicately dressed in a light sauce to enhance the flavours and texture.
When we returned home, my mom and I were eager to share the stories with my dad and sister and what better way than by trying to recreate some of the food. That’s when the sauce from this recipe was born. Soon, this sauce became a staple in our household. Then, one day I discovered Spaghetti Squash. I saw recipes for various pasta alternative dishes using it and thought I’d give it a try. Given that it has a similar shape and texture to spaghetti noodles, it seemed like a good alternative. That was nearly five years ago and, clearly it was a hit or else I wouldn’t be sharing the recipe with you here today. And guess what? It’s WHOLE 30 COMPLIANT!
When cooking any dish that uses spaghetti squash, the first thing to do is cook the squash. There are various methods out there but this one works best for me. I cut the squash in half through the stem and scoop out the inside. I then place the squash cut-side up, brush a little bit of olive oil over the top edges and inside the whole and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I cook it in the oven at 425 for about 30 minutes. The length of time will depend on your oven and the size of the squash. I usually check mine at 20 minutes and gauge how much longer it needs to cook. You’ll know it’s done when you can poke it with a fork and thin, “spaghetti-like” strings start to come out. You don’t want to overcook it, though. It can end up a bit mushy if you overcook it so you want to take it out just when it starts to pull apart easily.
While the squash cooks, chop up one onion and crush 2 garlic cloves. Add these to a hot frying pan with about 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Allow the onions and garlic to sautée for a few minutes, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Then, add in the tomatoes. I like to use a mix of different types of tomatoes to give the sauce a great flavour, but you can use whatever you find. Toss the tomatoes around to coat in the oil. Add to this 2 Tbsp of pesto, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Then, cover. When the tomatoes are covered, they will start to burst, allowing the juicy insides to escape and mingle with the other ingredients to create a delicious sauce. After about 5 minutes, when the tomatoes have started to burst, add in 3/4 of your fresh basil, stir it all together and cover again. Towards the end, if some tomatoes haven’t burst, you can help them along with the back of your spoon. If the sauce is a little thick, add a little bit of water. I usually use anywhere from 1/4-3/4 of a cup depending on the sauce. Basically, add it until it gets to the consistency you prefer.
When the spaghetti squash is ready, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes so it is a bit easier to handle. Then, start shredding. I take two forks and start pulling along the edges toward the center. Get all of those delicious “noodles” out and discard the skin.
You have the choice to mix the squash in with the sauce or serve the sauce over top of the squash. I’ve done it both ways and I notice when you mix it all together, the squash tends to release a lot of liquid, so I usually spoon the sauce over and then lightly mix it in my bowl. Then, I sprinkle the rest of the chopped basil over the top and serve! You could add cheese, of course, but when I was doing the Whole 30 I obviously didn’t and realized that I didn’t miss the cheese at all, so give it a try without and see how it goes!
Spaghetti Squash in a Tomato Basil Sauce
Invite the tastes of Italy into your kitchen with this simple, rustic dish. This delicious sauce can be used with pasta, spaghetti squash or even zucchini noodles.
- 1 large spaghetti squash
- 4 cups cherry, grape or cocktail tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp olive oil plus 1 tsp for brushing on the squash
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
- 2 Tbsp pesto
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 6-8 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
- ¼-¾ cup of water
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Cut spaghetti squash in half length ways. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Brush the inside with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place cut side up on a baking sheet in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes or until fork tender. Don’t overcook.
- While the spaghetti squash is cooking, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the onion and garlic and sautée until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and coat in the oil. Add pesto, salt, pepper, and dried oregano and mix to combine. Cover and allow the tomatoes to soften for 5 minutes.
- When tomatoes have started to burst, add 3/4 of your fresh basil, stir it all together and cover again.
- If needed, add water gradually to thin out sauce. Allow sauce to heat through again. Season with salt and pepper as needed
- When spaghetti squash is roasted, remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Start shredding the squash with two forks by pulling away from the outside skin towards the centre.
- Scoop squash into a bowl and spoon sauce over the top. Garnish with remaining chopped basil.