Spaghetti squash wasn’t always on Whitney Otawka’s must-eat list. “I was slightly scarred by it as a kid,” says the culinary director at the Greyfield Inn on Georgia’s Cumberland Island. “It’s what your friend’s mom would trick you into eating by saying it was pasta.” But the mild, sweet flavor won the chef over last year after her husband, Ben Wheatley—who also happens to be the executive chef at the Greyfield—suggested they add it to the inn’s fall menu. The resulting dish (see below) featuring the two- to three-pound oblong beaut became an instant star. “Working at amazing restaurants, I’ve always seen some form of play with zucchini and summer squash—ribbons or strands,” says Otawka, a California native who relocated to Athens, Georgia, to work with the chef Hugh Acheson in 2005. “Spaghetti squash is basically pre-julienned, so it can be used very easily in a lot of interesting ways.” When shopping, make sure the squash you select is blemish free and feels heavy for its size. To prep, just halve it, spoon out the seeds, and roast for about twenty minutes before using a fork to gently scrape out the flesh into spaghetti-like strands. Top them with feta, olives, pine nuts, and a drizzle of olive oil for a Greek spin; or tomato sauce and Parmesan for Italian flavor. For a more traditionally Southern dish, go for a gratin or a fall casserole. And go ahead and buy two or more at a time—the squashes keep for a couple of months in a cool, dry spot and are guaranteed to become a go-to on your autumn table.
The Chef Recommends:
Spaghetti Squash With Kale and Pecorino Romano Cream
“The rich cream sauce works well with the squash’s mild, nutty flavor.” — Whitney Otawka, the Greyfield Inn, Cumberland Island, Georgia
Scrape seeds from a halved squash. Roast at 350°F, cut sides down on sheet pan, for 15 to 20 minutes. Rest 10 minutes. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a sauté pan over medium. Add ½ tsp. chile flakes, 4 cups chopped kale, 2 tsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp. butter, and ½ tsp. salt. Cook 3 to 5 minutes. In a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. butter over medium-low. Add 2 tsp. each minced shallot and garlic. Sweat them for 5 minutes, then add 2 cups heavy cream. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in ½ cup grated pecorino Romano, ¼ tsp. sherry vinegar, ¼ tsp. salt, and pinch of pepper. Use fork to scrape squash to form strands. Add to pan with kale, and toss with 1 cup of sauce. Top with chopped toasted walnuts and parsley.