When you look over the colorful choices of squash in various goofy shapes and sizes at your market this week, tell your kids to snoop carefully to find an extra-fun variety you may have forgotten about or never tried - spaghetti squash!
The oblong, light-yellow squash, which is approximately 8-10 inches in length, is packed with healthy nutrients, is low in calories, high in fiber and, best of all, has a super kid appeal because there's a surprise inside.
To the delight of your entire family, you'll discover that once baked, the flesh of the squash comes out in long strands that look like noodles.
Its buttery, mild and slightly sweet flavor is ideally suited to be topped with tomato sauce and grated Parmesan mimicking a bowl of traditional spaghetti.
On another occasion, serve it as a tasty side dish tossed with pesto, a garlic-flavored herb butter or mixed vegetables and feta cheese.
And when you prepare a roast, set the sliced meat and juices over the "noodles" for a robust weekend meal.
Here are four easy steps for preparing spaghetti squash, with a few tips tossed in to make easier work when handling it.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. Wash the outside of a 2 1/2- to 3-pound spaghetti squash and pat dry. Cut in half lengthwise.
Like most varieties of winter squash, it can be difficult to cut through the hard shell. I pierce the squash in several places with the tip of a knife and put it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes or more depending on its size to soften it a bit. Let it rest for a few minutes and slice in half with a sharp knife.
2. Scoop out the seeds.
A melon baller and small ice-cream scoop are easy-to-handle kitchen tools for school-age kids to use if they are assisting you with this step.
3. Place the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Bake for an hour or until easily pierced with a fork. Cool for 15 minutes.
4. Scoop out insides with a fork to remove the noodle-like strands. Place in a serving bowl or on a small platter. Top with preferred toppings or combine with butter, seasonings or cooked vegetables. Serves 3-4.
- Donna Erickson's award-winning series "Donna's Day" is airing on public television nationwide. To find more of her creative family recipes and activities, visit www.donnasday.com and link to the new Donna's Day Facebook fan page. Her latest book is "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families."