I’ll come out and say it: Some spaghetti squash (squashes?!) are better—read: more flavorful and less watery—than others. I cannot prove this scientifically, but I have had better luck with smaller, yellower squash. If you’re at the farmers market, I recommend asking the squash purveyor to pick one out for you—if only so that when it’s not that great, you don’t have yourself to blame. (Kidding!)
2. Cut it crosswise.
Instead of hacking apart your squash down its length to create two long boats, take a cue from blogger and cookbook author Alexandra Stafford and cut it through its equator to make two narrower halves that stand tall on your baking sheet. While slicing the squash across its belly may seem as counterintuitive as pouring your milk in your bowl before your cereal, it results in longer strands that are ultimately more satisfying to twirl around your fork. (I’d also argue that a shorter cut presents less opportunity to hurt yourself, a non-trivial concern when slicing rotund produce like watermelon and kabocha.)
For the noodliest noodles possible, use a fork to tease the squash flesh away from the skin rather than scooping it out with a spoon.
3. Add a flavorful sauce.
Even the best spaghetti squash is mild (to put it nicely), so take advantage of the time it spends in the oven to make a bold accompaniment. In Spaghetti Squash That Fancies Itself Baked Ziti, it’s a roasted tomato sauce that burbles away in a baking dish while the vegetable cooks—the two are able to join forces in about 40 minutes and with minimal cleanup.
But it doesn’t have to be tomato! Try tossing your cooked squash with sage-spiked brown butter, pesto made with any number of greens, mashed garlic confit, or puttanesque olives and capers. Or spread the noodles into a shallow baking dish, douse them in cream infused with chile and rosemary, top with sharp or tangy cheese, and bake it gratin-style.
No matter your sauce, don’t be worried if it tastes slightly too salty or punchy on its own—it’s about to season a whole lot of squash. I would steer clear of anything too thick, however—since spaghetti squash is flimsier than actual noodles, it can’t stand up to a sauce that has a tendency to glom.
4. Introduce textural variation.
Soft squash + lots of sauce = mush. To give your teeth something to do, lean into toppings that will add textural interest: toasted nuts, crunchy bread crumbs, fried shallots or onions, crumbled cheese like feta or queso fresco. Personally, I like to serve the baked ziti squash with lots of crusty bread for sopping up any extra tomato sauce.
5. When in doubt, add real pasta.
Sounds like a joke, but I’m serious. My favorite way to eat the leftovers of this saucy spaghetti squash casserole is to mix them with hot noodles and shower with more Parmesan. The al dente pasta becomes tangled with the tender, subtly sweet squash and the bright sauce for a delightful array of textures and flavors. If your whole intention is to avoid pasta, the squash would also make a great addition to toothsome cooked grains, like farro or wheatberries. The point is that the squash does not have to stand alone as the bulk of the dish—let another ingredient do some heavy lifting.
And perhaps the most important tip of all? Once you find a spaghetti squash recipe you like, save it. There will always be another winter (well, God willing), and there will always be another spaghetti squash, stowing away in your grocery bag and challenging you to make it taste great.