Spaghetti Squash with Swiss and Pancetta Bechamel
Spaghetti squash was a staple in my house growing up. My mom baked it in its shell with meaty marinara and a thick, melted layer of mozzarella, all nice and browned on top. I’ve made it a few times, myself, and it’s always a failproof favorite in the household. And I’ve always done it the same way: marinara and mozzarella. This time, I decided to try something different: I baked it with a swiss cheese and pancetta bechamel.
No matter how many times I make spaghetti squash, I can never remember exactly how to cook it. Steamed first, then shredded and filled with stuff? Shredded and filled, then baked? A few calls to the mom, and interweb searches, and I have my duh moment: The squash should be cooked, and then the sqaushy inside is shredded with a fork into its familiar spaghetti-like form. Then it can be topped with yummy things and broiled. This time around I didn’t quite get it right, but the recipe below will detail the way it should have been done, not the way it was done.
I’ve always served spaghetti squash as a main dish, because it’s so filling on its own. You could probably serve it as a side, at a big dinner party or something, with chicken or a roast or fish or…whatever else people serve at big dinner parties. Either way, it is my favorite of all the squashes. Any vegetable that can masquerade as pasta gets five gold stars from me.
Spaghetti Squash with Swiss and Pancetta Bechamel
- 1 medium spaghetti squash
- 2 T. butter
- 3 oz. (about 3/4 c., chopped) pancetta
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- about 1/4 c. flour
- 1 1/2 c. low-fat milk (you could use whole if you wanted)
- about 1 to 1 1/2 c. grated swiss cheese (I used Emmenthaler), plus a bit extra for the top
- salt and pepper
- a pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1/4 c. of romano or parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375F. Slice the spaghetti squash in half, and scrape out the seeds and the stringy stuff with a spoon. Place each half, cut side down, in a large baking pan, with about 2 c., or an inch, of water. Bake for about 40 minutes, so the squash steams, and the flesh cooks until its tender and shreddable.
While the squash is steaming/baking, prepare the bechamel. Cut the pancetta into smallish pieces. I used thinly sliced pancetta, so I just chopped it all up into about 1/4 inch bits. Heat the milk over a low flame: You want it to come to room temperature, but not to boil.
Melt the butter in a large skillet, and add the pancetta. Cook this all up until the fat renders from the pancetta and it starts to brown a little bit. I had to add a teaspoon or so of olive oil at this point, because the pancetta wasn’t very fatty–you want to make sure you have enough fat in the pan to make a roux. Add the garlic, and saute it all together for about a minute or so.
Add the flour, a bit at a time, whisking as you add it, until you create a smooth paste. Slowly add the milk, a bit at a time, whisking and letting it thicken a bit before adding more. Then add the swiss cheese, also a bit at a time, still whisking away. Eventually, you’ll create a nice thick, creamy sauce. At this point, add salt and pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, stir it all up a bit more, and remove it from the heat.
Take the squash out of the oven and let it cool for a minute or two. Using a fork, scrape the insides of each squash half until it forms stringy, spaghetti-like strands. Keep all of this inside the shell, and try to get as much from the sides as you can. Then add the bechamel on top of each half, and top with a thin layer of swiss cheese and romano, or parmesan. Put the squash halves back into the baking dish (without the water), and put them under a broiler for a few minutes, until the cheese on top is nice and browned and bubbly.
After they’ve cooled a bit, they can be served directly in their shells. Due to my, erm, unforseen difficulties, I had to dish everything into a bowl so I could scrape out more of the squash bits. Sad, because eating it straight from the squash shell is the most fun part. I wasn’t totally happy with my squash to sauce ratio, and the squash itself didn’t seem as fresh and brightly colored and tasty as it usually does, but it is the end of February, so…. Crystal, however, loved it. And I have to say, myself, that the bechamel was one of the best I’ve ever made. So altogether, while it wasn’t the absolutely most awesome thing I’ve ever cooked, it was still a dinnertime success.
Crystal also brought home a delicious Muscadet, from Chateau de la Fessardiere (I say this as though I know anything about wine). I don’t usually mention the wines we drink with dinner, but I thought this one was an especially excellent pairing with the bechamel: It was bright, but still smooth and subtle, and the fruitiness was a good match for the heaviness of the sauce. Perhaps for once in my life I will remember I kind of wine I liked, and pick it up again sometime.