How To Cook Spaghetti Squash to Al Dente Pasta-Like Perfection, According to a Pro Chef

Photo: Well Plated
It’s finally winter squash season, which can only mean one thing: tons of tasty winter squash recipes incoming. And while pumpkins are usually the most "pick me" of all the gourds, can we agree that spaghetti squash is just as deserving of love and affection? The delicious, almost pasta-like veg is packed with tons of nutrition benefits, including 10 percent of your recommended daily intake of fiber plus potent antioxidants to keep inflammation at bay.

Next step is figuring out how to cook spaghetti squash. To that end, we caught up with cookbook author and recipe developer Erin Clarke of Well Plated, who squashed (pun intended) any confusion regarding this wholesome ingredient. Ahead, the best way to safely prep spaghetti squash, some of the tastiest recipes for serving it up, plus the number one mistake folks make when preparing this anti-inflammatory wintertime staple.

Experts In This Article

How to prepare and cook spaghetti squash

Although spaghetti squash may look intimidating, cooking it is far from. In fact, Clarke says that spaghetti squash is one of the most budget-friendly, easy-to-prep, and versatile foods you can find in the produce section. That’s because, when cooked, the flesh of this delicious fruit transforms into semi-translucent strands that resemble angel hair pasta with a bit more texture and crunch.

The best part? Much like plain pasta, it has a mostly neutral, yet slightly sweet flavor that pairs well with just about any sauce, dish, or pairing. Some of Clarke’s favorite ways to serve spaghetti squash include her Spaghetti Squash Lasagna and Spaghetti Squash Casserole recipes.

So, what’s the best way to cook spaghetti squash? Clarke says it’s plain and simple: Bake it. “The oven is my favorite method for cooking spaghetti squash because it makes the strands a little caramelized and sweet,” she says. Plus, a quick 35 to 40 minutes at 400ºF is all it takes to cook a halved, medium spaghetti squash to perfection.

You can also try the "ring method," which entails cutting the spaghetti squash horizontally, about one-inch wide, which yields longer, string-like "spaghetti" noodles as demonstrated in this TikTok video by @eatingbirdfood. All that's missing is a heaping serving of vegan bolognese to top things off.

@eatingbirdfood If you want long pasta-like strands that aren't watery, you have to give my ring method a try! 💛 #spaghettisquash #squashseason #wintersquash #roastedvegetables ♬ greedy - Tate McRae

That said, if cranking on the oven isn’t an option (say, it doubles as a storage space for your pots and pans), you can also pop your raw spaghetti squash into a slow cooker or even microwave it. “If you prefer not to have your oven on that long, try my Crockpot Spaghetti Squash recipe. For a three to four pound squash, cook it on high for three to four hours or low for five to six hours,” Clarke says. Extra perk: It's a hands-free way of getting dinner on the table.

“The oven is my favorite method for cooking spaghetti squash because it makes the strands a little caramelized and sweet,” Clarke says. Plus, a quick 35 to 40 minutes at 400ºF is all it takes to cook a halved, medium spaghetti squash to perfection.

How to cook spaghetti squash in the microwave

If you choose the microwave route, there’s a few pros and cons to keep in mind. Pros: It’ll take a little under 10 minutes to cook (but don’t forget to poke holes when microwaving it whole to help release any trapped steam). Cons: It’ll be a little mushier and muted in flavor, since you aren't achieving that oh-so-desirable flavorful Maillard reaction as you would when roasting it. “You don't get the caramelization that you do in the oven. This may be a good or a bad thing, depending upon how you like your squash,” Clarke says.

To cook spaghetti squash in the microwave, cut it in half length-wise, remove seeds, then poke each half it with a fork several times around to let steam escape. Microwave each half face down in a baking dish filled with water for about five minutes, adding more time as needed, up to 10 minutes (or longer, depending on your microwave).

What is an easy way to cut spaghetti squash?

According to Clarke, safety comes first when handling and cutting spaghetti squash. This is one sturdy veg, which means extra care should be taken when cutting into one. To ensure you're being extra careful, she recommends enlisting the help of a few essential cooking tools: a sharp chef’s knife, a sturdy cutting board, and a spoon.

Due to the uneven, cylindrical shape of the fruit, cutting into a wobbly spaghetti squash can be rather challenging. So, to make the task easier (and safer), the first order of business is to place the squash horizontally on a cutting board, and slice off the stem and base to create two flat surfaces.

Then, you can stand it up vertically on one of the flat ends you just created, and slowly slide your knife from top to bottom to create two equal-shaped halves without the spaghetti squash rolling around (although they don't have to be perfect). Finally, using a spoon, you'll want to carefully remove the seeds and any stringy flesh surrounding them, without cutting into the flesh. Et voilà! The hardest part is over and your spaghetti squash is ready to cook.

But, keep in mind: If the mere thought of slicing through a big ol’ squash sends a shiver down your spine or you simply don’t have a sharp knife at hand, there’s a quick fix for that. Warming it up can help soften the flesh making it much easier to cut. “You do need to halve spaghetti squash lengthwise and scoop out its seeds prior to cooking. To make it safer to cut, poke the outside of the squash skin all over with a fork and microwave it for a few minutes. This softens the outside of the squash a bit and makes it easier to cut,” Clarke says.

The most common mistake made when cooking this fruit

When it comes to cooking spaghetti squash, Clarke says it’s beyond easy to accidentally overcook it. “It happens more often than you think. You want the squash strands to be al dente so they hold their texture, and if you cook it too long, they'll get mushy,” she says. To tell if your squash is done, she recommends lightly pressing on the outside of the squash. “It should give just a little. The squash will look golden on the outside and the inside will have just turned fork tender.”

How to pick the perfect spaghetti squash

When choosing the perfect spaghetti squash from the bunch, Clarke recommends paying close attention to two key elements: firmness and bruising. "A firm spaghetti squash that feels heavy for its size and one that doesn't have any soft spots," is juuuust right, according to the recipe developer. “Avoid ones with cracks or missing stems. And, if your squash is green and you'd like to ripen it, put it in a warmer place,” she says.

The good news: Clarke says most squashes you’ll find at the grocery store are ready to cook right away. So, if you’re not ready to pop it in the oven just yet, store it in a cool, dry place to keep it from over-ripening. Also, keep in mind that, generally speaking, you can plan to get about two to three servings per spaghetti squash, although this can vary depending on its size, which may come in handy when meal planning for the week.

Can't get enough squash? This acorn squash chips recipe will do the trick:

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