I admit I’m vegetable averse. Growing up, if my mother had let me, I would have limited my consumption of produce to peas (frozen, of course), baked potatoes, and corn on the cob, which for many years I made my mother cut off the cob for me—sorry about that, Mom!
And oddly, I loved fried okra. My mom grew up picking cotton on the family farm in northern Alabama and when we would go down to visit, my job was to go out to one of my Grandmother Howard’s huge gardens and pick the okra each day, which she would cut into rounds, toss with seasoned cornmeal, and fry up in her shiny black cast iron skillet. Oh man!
I’ve changed my tune over the years and am now a lover of many vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and vine-ripe local tomatoes, but I am still a reluctant cook of vegetables that, to me, are less familiar.
This past week, I decided it was finally time to take on winter squash, spaghetti squash in particular, since I’d never cooked it, never eaten it, and so had zero idea what I was doing. I decided to grill it. (Mark’s also had squash on his mind and his grill; check out his Instagram feed @markbittman.) I did a little research and the game was on: Halved, skin side down, over direct medium heat. The trick is not to cut the squash lengthwise, as you see in all the photos. Through the middle—the equator—because, I learned, the strands run from side to side, not stem to bottom.
I made my fire, removed the seeds from the squash, brushed the cut sides and interior with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, got it on the fire, and closed the lid. It took 45 minutes for it to get tender. While it cooked, I put together a simple tomato sauce made from two pounds chopped fresh tomatoes sautéed with a ton of garlic; at the end I stirred in fresh basil.
I took a fork and raked it upward against the flesh of the cooked squash, which immediately came away from the skin and separated into long, lovely, individual strands. (I got five cups from a 3.75-pound squash.) Once I had all my strands, I tossed them with the sauce.
I didn’t have high hopes for how it would taste. I figured it would be mild, nondescript, and vegetal—for me, about as unexciting as a thing can get. Was I wrong! The strands had taken on a subtle but very present smoke flavor that combined seamlessly with the tomato sauce. It was so delicious I could see it as an absolutely satisfying main-course vegetable “pasta.” Surprising myself, I had three helpings. This is one vegetable dish that will most definitely find its way onto my Thanksgiving table this year.