Spaghetti and Meatballs and Squash (oh, my!)

Although this is where I usually list my “inspiration,” this meal was one of our traditional meals from America’s Test Kitchen, adapted to the ingredients we had on hand (mostly including leftovers).  I really enjoyed it, so I hope you give it a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash
  • olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled & put through a garlic press (divided)
  • 3 shallots, minced (divided)
  • approximately 4 cups whole peeled tomatoes canned in their own juice (see notes)
  • chopped fresh basil to taste
  • approximately 4 ounces lean ground beef
  • 1 slice sandwich bread, crusts removed (we used whole wheat and flax because it’s what we had on hand, but I usually use a high-quality sandwich bread or a couple of slices from a french loaf if I’m making garlic bread with the meal).
  • milk
  • shredded parmesan cheese
  • dried spaghetti

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Slice squash in half and remove seeds.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into each half of the squash and spread oil over the entire squash (both skin and flesh sides) with your hands.  Bake squash on parchment-lined cookie sheet until tender.  The squash is done when a fork or skewer slides into the flesh with minimal resistance. (Can be baked up to two days ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator).
  2. Meanwhile, rip bread into approximately 4 pieces and place in small mixing bowl with a splash of milk.  With a dinner fork, mash the bread until it forms a paste with the milk.  You can add more milk as needed until you get a smushy consistency.  Add half the garlic and shallots along with all of the beef to the bread mixture and mix with hands to combine.
  3. Form smallish (1″ diameter) meatballs and place on an additional cookie sheet.  Bake meatballs in the same oven as the squash until browned and sizzling.  Since these are made with a panade (the bread/milk combo), it’s really hard to overcook them, so don’t be afraid to give them a little longer than you normally would.  They’ll also be reheated in the sauce, so it’s pretty difficult to under-cook them.
  4. Puree the canned tomatoes in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Add shallots and sauté until soft, approximately 2 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, 30 seconds or so.  Add pureed tomatoes and heat through.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
  7. Add basil to the tomato mixture and continue to cook for a few more minutes.  Once the squash has finished cooking, scoop the flesh directly into the tomato sauce.  If you are cooking the entire recipe in one night, use caution while handling the hot squash.  Add Parmesan cheese to taste.
  8. Add meatballs to the sauce and heat through.
  9. Cook spaghetti according to package directions and serve topped with sauce.  You can top with additional Parmesan if you desire.

Note:

  • We only used whole canned tomatoes and pureed them because we had leftovers from another recipe.  I would normally make this recipe with either canned diced or crushed tomatoes, and skip step 4.

The Verdict:

We love spaghetti and meatballs, and we got our original meatball recipe from America’s Test Kitchen New Best Recipe.  These meatballs are not quite as tasty as theirs, but since we had so many parts going on with this meal already, we skipped the step where you brown the meatballs in oil.  I can only handle so many dirty pots & pans from one meal!

The sauce ended up really flavorful and thick because of the squash.  Although there was not any specifically squash flavor that I could tell (which sort of disappointed me, because I do like my squash), there was a heartiness and an oranginess that I liked.  I think this would be a really good recipe for someone to try that has squash to use but is either sick of the flavor or isn’t sure they like squash.  I had originally baked the squash a few days before, to use in a different recipe that I never got around to, so using the one we had this way seemed like a good idea.

All-in-all, this was a delicious rendition of one of our standbys and we’d likely try it again under similar circumstances.  In the future, I do however want to experiment with other pasta & squash recipes that really highlight the squash flavor.

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