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Oven baked alongside sweet ripe tomatoes and Italian-style sausage, this Baked Spaghetti Squash Parmesan Recipe is an easy sheet pan favorite!
With much gratitude and appreciation, this modified from a recipe found in Eating Well Magazine!
Squash Parmesan Recipe – Baked Spaghetti Squash Nests
Cutting spaghetti squash into rings cuts down on the cooking time and offers the lovely golden threads an opportunity to caramelize. Use any type of sweet ripe tomato you like and chose an Italian-style sausage that resonates with your eaters.
I’m using a mixture of both sweet Italian pork sausage and crumbled spicy Italian chicken sausage today for a bit of uniqueness in every bite. The flavor profiles found in each are my favorite way of punching up this dish.
The simple ingredients I am introducing herein will get this dish where it needs to go in terms of flavor for your entire family to embrace it. It may even sway those family members who do not otherwise enjoy squash to change their tune! And if this squash recipe doesn’t do the trick, my method for how to make crispy delicata squash absolutely will.
Ingredients for This Squash Parmesan Recipe
- spaghetti squash
- olive oil
- black pepper
- Kosher salt
- fresh cremini mushrooms
- cherry tomatoes
- Italian sausage
- Balsamic vinegar glaze
- Parmesan cheese
- fresh basil leaves
- additional chopped fresh herbs such as oregano and parsley
How This Recipe Came About…
For so many, January 1st marks the beginning of new habits and resolutions for good health. It’s different for me, in that the moment in late winter when I can ‘first smell the dirt’ is when that instinct to eat what I grow kicks in.
For those of you who live in Northern states where the spring thaw is acutely apparent, you understand what ‘first smell the dirt’ means. For everybody else, it’s when the earth thaws to the point where the still saturated soil is so pungent smelling, it’s noticeable.
I take that olfactory sign as a reason to prepare where and what I will plant. This gorgeous spaghetti squash happens to be one of many winter squash I harvested last fall.
I’d seen the idea of ‘nests’ done with thin slices of summer squash baked inside jumbo muffin tins. They were entirely clever, but small. I really wanted to put the spaghetti squashes that I had to work, so hence my version of ‘nests’ and a size perfect for a main dish.
What Does Spaghetti Squash Taste Like?
So, no great surprise here…spaghetti squash tastes like squash. Sorry to disappoint, but the name comes from its resemblance to pasta only, not its flavor.
Why then, unless you are simply a squash enthusiast, would you bake this late summer gem as a family dinner entree? As in ‘serve this to kids???’
I’m not crazy, and yes to being honest when I say this recipe has in fact passed the kid test. They ate it and they liked it and I was blown away.
But I think I know why they were cool with it…it had a sweet and mild flavor. In other words, I made it taste less like squash.
You see, the method herein changes the structure of the squash. It’s sweet once it’s done, some threads almost…crunchy.
My goal? To have you brown it and nearly burn it. The inside threads will balance the forcibly browned exteriors and once combined are an enticing sweet and nutty party for your taste buds.
Baking a Spaghetti Squash
Oven temperature in this method matters greatly. The oven must be preheated to 425°F BEFORE placing the squash rings in to roast.
And because there is so much water found in the squash to begin with, I pop these rings in to roast before I begin roasting any other ingredient.
That added time and heat coaxes the sugars which in turn promote browning and caramelization. It’s a skill. It’s also patience.
With Kosher salt and olive oil, high heat first cooks, then evaporates, then quasi-crisps the exposed threads. They cannot help but to turn a deep golden brown, their natural sugar evident upon first taste.
Inner threads remain a pale yellow and are entirely soft and steamy. I mix the caramelized outer threads with these steamy inner threads and ‘fluff’ for a lovely balance of soft texture and taste.
So, they’re still not spaghetti, but they do have a sweet and nutty flavor all of their own. Combined with sweet tomatoes, savory sausage, and salty Parmesan cheese, the sugars coaxed in the squash are a match made in Heaven.
What Kind of Tomatoes Should I Use for This Squash Parmesan Recipe?
Small, sweet, and compact tomatoes work best in this dish. I aim for overripe cherry tomatoes or Campari’s. I cut them in half lengthwise and sprinkle them with Kosher salt before adding to a colander to drain for about 30 minutes.
The salt draws the water out from within the tomatoes. Once they hit the screaming hot sheet pan, they roast quickly and caramelize even quicker. Seeing a pattern here?
What Kind of Sausage Should I Use?
Go with what your eaters will eat. Nobody in this house loves spicy sausage but me. So, to get around a mutiny, I use both sweet Italian pork sausage and a very finely crumbled spicy chicken sausage.
Use what you have available or what is available to you at your local grocery store. I have often thought that this recipe could assume a unique Cajun flare just by switching out the Italian sausage for andouille and adding a tablespoon of heavy cream to each finished nest and broiling for added color.
Mexican recipes commonly use chorizo. A great way to swing this south of the border would be to crumble that chorizo and add chopped cilantro and queso fresco to the mix.
How To Make Baked Spaghetti Squash Parmesan Nests?
Heat Oven and Prep Your Equipment
As I mentioned earlier, oven temperature plays a huge role in getting the squash cooked correctly. The best way to achieve browning is to go ahead and heat your oven to 425°F with the oven rack in the middle position, and line your largest rimmed baking sheet with heavy gauge aluminum foil.
Measure 1 teaspoon of olive oil and drizzle it in the middle of the baking sheet. Use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the olive oil over the surface of the baking sheet.
I already know that your instinct will be to add additional oil as a teaspoon isn’t enough. Don’t. This is all part of the method of ridding the exposed surface of squash of extra moisture.
Parboil the Sausage and Cut the Squash
Place a large pot of water atop a burner on high heat and bring the water to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and add the whole pork sausages. Parboil the sausages for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and set aside.
Use a sharp kitchen knife to cut a large spaghetti squash into four circles. To do this, begin by cutting off both ends but hang onto them.
Next, but the large remaining ‘middle’ in half. Finally, cut each half in half. It’s okay if they are uneven in size as the fluffing and stuffing at the end will conceal the edges of each nest hence no ability to truly tell if they’re even or not.
Scoop out the seeds and place the squash pieces onto the oiled baking sheet. Place the ends of the squash slices on the baking sheet as well, cut side up for the moment.
Prepare to Bake
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over all four squash circles and use your fingers to drag the oil over the surface and inside of each circle. Again, you’ll automatically want to add more oil. Don’t.
Stir together 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper and 1/8 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Sprinkle over all of the squash including the ends. Turn the ends cut-side down before placing into the oven to bake for 25 minutes UNDISTURBED.
Good things are happening during the 25-minute oven bake. The exterior squash threads are browning and the water from the threads within is evaporating.
Introducing the Remaining Ingredients to The Bake
Carefully turn the ends over, exposing the flesh, and do the same with the squash circles. There should be small amounts of golden-brown patches over the surfaces. This will increase as the bake continues.
Add the cut tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to a large bowl. Toss to coat very well.
Scatter among the half-baked squash circles and ends. Lay the sausages around the mix and pop the entire ensemble back into the hot oven for another 20 minutes. Turn the sausages half-way through to promote browning on both sides.
Assembling the Nests
Remove the sheet pan from the oven. Use a fork to shred the squash ends first, then the centers of the rings into long strands. Divide the well-caramelized strands from the ends among the four circles and fluff all together within each circle.
Next slice each sausage link into thick chunks on the diagonal and divide along with the mushrooms and the tomatoes and a tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan cheese among the fluffed nests. Turn the oven to the broil setting and place the nests on the rack (still in middle position) for 1 to 2 minutes.
If using a sausage combination as I am, consider crumbling one variety while chunking the other. Also, I am using one variety of sausage that is raw and parboiling it, and another which is fully cooked out of the package, hence heating according to the package instructions.
Use a wide metal spatula to carefully remove each nest to a plate. Garnish with additional freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped basil leaves and a healthy drizzle of Balsamic glaze. Offer a simple side dish of fresh garlic bread or a salad and heaps more fresh Parmesan for passing at the table.
Modifying the Norm to Make It Not Entirely Average…
Earlier in this post, I mentioned the different types of sausage that could be used to change the flavor of this dish from Italian to say Cajun or even Mexican.
There are other different ways of introducing tasty nuances to this recipe including the addition of fresh chopped oregano leaves, a pinch of red pepper flakes, or a crispy topping of breadcrumbs flavored with Italian seasoning.
But this recipe can easily be a different story with the addition of unique ingredients versus alternate ones. There was a time I assembled these nests for a dinner party. I needed something to appeal to everybody and decided on these as a hot appetizer, Calabrian style.
I roasted garlic heads in foil that I’d cut in half and sprinkled/sweetened with brown sugar. Halfway through, I removed them from the foil and squeezed the semi-roasted cloves out onto the baking sheet in a single layer along with the tomatoes to finish roasting among them.
Fully roasted and sweet and nestled amid the roasted tomatoes and tender squash threads, the dish was a smash. It was the first time I’d ever given a recipe away to people who actually approached me for it.
The next time I made the dish, I combined garlic powder with a bit of melted butter and added seasoned breadcrumbs. Before broiling off the squash nests right at the end, I used a small spoon to drizzle some heavy cream and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over each nest to toast before plating for the dinner table.
If You Like This Recipe…
…you might also like:
Squash Parmesan Recipe – Baked Spaghetti Squash Nests
- large rimmed baking sheet
- heavy gauge aluminum foil
- sharp chef's knife
- 1 large spaghetti squash 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
- 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil divided
- ½ teaspoon black pepper divided
- 1 teaspoon +1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt divided
- 1 pint cremini mushrooms sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes halved lengthwise and salted with 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt and allowed to drain in a colander for 30 minutes; do not rinse; may also use Campari's or other sweet compact tomato
- 2 links Italian-style sausage par-boiled; may be pork or beef or may substitute a fully cooked chicken sausage; use a combination of flavors if desired
- 2 tablespoons Balsamic glaze
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese divided, freshly grated; NOT the processed cheese food from a can
- 2 tablespoons basil leaves, mixture of whole and chopped
- Preheat oven to 425°F with the rack in the middle position. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with heavy gauge aluminum foil and rub 1 teaspoon of olive oil all over. The olive oil layer will be exceptionally thin.
- Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and add the whole raw sausages. Par-boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and set aside.
- Trim squash ends and cut the squash crosswise into 4 equal rounds. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Place the rounds and the ends on the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Use your fingers to distribute the oil, pepper, and salt evenly. Turn the ends cut side down.
- Place the baking sheet into the preheated oven for 25 minutes and bake the rounds and ends UNDISTURBED.
- While squash is baking, combine mushrooms, tomatoes, and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.
- At the end of the 25 minutes, carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven. Turn the ends over, exposing the flesh, and do the same with the squash circles. There should be small amounts of golden-brown patches over the surfaces. This will increase as the bake continues. Scatter the tomato and mushroom mixture among the half-baked squash circles and ends. Lay the sausages around the mix place all back into the hot oven for another 20 minutes. Turn the sausages half-way through to promote browning on both sides.
- Remove pan from oven. Use a fork to shred the squash ends first, then the centers of the rings into long strands. Divide the well-caramelized strands from the ends among the four circles and fluff all together within each circle has an equal mix of interior and exterior threads.
- Next slice each sausage link into thick chunks on the diagonal and divide along with the mushrooms and the tomatoes and 1/8 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese among the fluffed nests. Turn the oven to the broil setting and place the nests on the rack (still in middle position) for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Use a wide metal spatula to carefully remove each nest to a plate. Garnish with the remaining 1/8 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped and whole fresh basil leaves, and a healthy drizzle of Balsamic glaze. Offer a simple side dish of fresh garlic bread or a salad and heaps more fresh Parmesan for passing at the table.
The nutrition value can vary depending on what product(s) you use. The information below is an estimate. Always use a calorie counter you are familiar with.
Please note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not deviate unless otherwise specified.