Take Me Out to the Field

By Anita McVey, Picnic Life Foodie

The undeniable signs of fall are everywhere: kids are back in school, the days are getting shorter, football season is underway, and the smell of pumpkin spice is in the air! Here in the Midwest, even with a late start, fields of corn are beginning to turn golden brown. Combines and tractors are lined up in machines sheds like race cars at the starting line. And, harvest meal planning becomes a fine art: perfecting the timing, logistics, nourishment and flavor. 

In celebration of the season, I’ve created a recipe that captures the flavors of fall with a twist on a classic – Spaghetti Squash Lasagna.

Traditional lasagna is one of life’s great comfort foods. Without compromising on flavor or comfort, this recipe amps up the nutrients and reduces the guilt. Squash is a low calorie, low fat and low carbohydrate source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Whether selecting pork, beef, turkey or chicken as the primary protein, using seasoning is a perfect way to kick up desired Italian flavors.

When purchasing spaghetti or marinara sauce, turn the jar around and compare the nutritional information. Notice the amount of sugar in the various brands. If you feel a lower-sugar brand is lacking in flavor, add more garlic and Italian herbs to the sauce as it simmers for a big improvement.

Whether you are heading to the football or corn field, or you’re just ready to embrace all the pumpkin spice feels of fall, enjoy this hearty, healthy recipe and remember to give thanks for our farmers and the abundance of food we enjoy.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

  • 1 large spaghetti squash (approximately 10-inch long x 6-inch diameter)
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, divided
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced and divided
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning, divided
  • 1 pound ground turkey, chicken or pork
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 6-8 Roma tomatoes or 3-4 medium-sized tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese*
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil (optional)
  • Marinara sauce*

Spaghetti Squash Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Sprinkle cut sides of squash with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. 

Choose a baking pan large enough to easily hold both halves of the squash and add enough water to the pan to reach ½ inch up the side. Place the squash halves, cut-side down, in the water and cover pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Squash is ready if it gives under a little pressure from your finger on the skin side. Remove from oven and remove foil (be careful as steam will escape as the foil is removed). Place the squash halves on a cutting board, cut side up, and cool until easy to handle.

Bring in the kids: this step is fun! Take a fork, turn it over so the prongs point down and drag the fork across the inside of the squash. The “noodles” will separate as you drag the fork gently through the squash. 

Put the squash noodles in a large bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and use a fork (or your hands) to toss with half of the minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Meat Filling Preparation

Brown ground meat with remaining minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and crushed red pepper; drain.

Lasagna Assembly and Baking

Spread 1/3 of the squash on the bottom of the pan. Place a single layer of sliced tomatoes on top. Sprinkle 1/2 of the ground meat mixture on top of tomatoes and 1/3 of the cheese(s) over the meat. Repeat all layers. Spread remaining squash on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees F, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly browned on top.

While lasagna bakes, warm marinara sauce in a pan on top of the stove over low heat until hot.

Remove lasagna from oven. Cool for 10 minutes, then cut into pieces and serve with marinara sauce and fresh basil.

*Mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce can be omitted or reduced as desired.

NOTE: The spaghetti squash noodles and seasoned meat mixture can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. If the ingredients are cold when the lasagna is assembled, additional baking time may be needed.

Individual Serving Suggestion

If your family is going multiple directions each evening or if a whole pan of lasagna is just too much, consider assembling individual servings. Disposable aluminum pans like mini-loaf or mini-pie pans work perfectly! Divide the ingredients among about 8 mini pans (depending on how thick you make the layers) and adjust the baking time accordingly (check after 30 minutes).

Spaghetti squash freezes well, so you can assemble a full recipe and freeze several unbaked pans. When you want one or two, simply transfer the pans from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before and bake uncovered as directed. Additional baking time may be necessary if the dish is not completely thawed. Squash contains a lot of water so it’s not unusual to have some liquid in the pan after baking.

For easy transportation and distribution of individual servings, cover with foil and poke a few holes in the foil to release the steam. Warm marinara sauce can be divided into small jelly jars with twist on lids.