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Comfort food to impress

Comforting and classy, this filling dish works for a weekday meal or when guests stop in.
squash
An elegant twist on the humble spaghetti squash--comfort food for the family and guests alike. Photo: Gayle Wolf

Spaghetti squash is a versatile veg--as a simple side, or dressed up in this delicious incarnation with sausage, cheese and cream. 

INGREDIENTS:

· 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

· 1 head garlic

· 1lb lean ground beef (or ground chicken, spicy sausage)

· 1 small yellow onion, chopped  

  1 can (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes

· 1 cup red wine (or water) 

  1 dried bay leaf 

  2 teaspoons dried oregano or Italian herb mix

· 1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes (omit if using spicy sausage)

· 2 medium spaghetti squash, halved and seeds removed (6-7” long)

· 1/2 cup whipping cream

· 1/4 cup ricotta cheese

· 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

· 1/8 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg

· 1 1/2 cups shredded fontina or mozzarella cheese

· 1 cup shredded provolone cheese

 · salt and black pepper

· fresh thyme or sage leaves, for serving (optional)

· INSTRUCTIONS:

· Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Slice off the top portion of the garlic head to expose some of the cloves. Place the garlic on a piece of foil. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and salt and wrap in foil. Transfer to the oven and roast until cloves are lightly browned and tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool, then squeeze the garlic out into a bowl. Mash the cloves with a fork.

· To make the meat sauce. In a medium pot, cook and brown the ground beef over medium heat, about 5 to 8 minutes (drain any excess fat).

· Heat olive oil in pot and add onion and cook another 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the beef and tomatoes, 1 cup red wine (or water), the bay leaf, oregano, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove the bay leaf, stir in the roasted garlic. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

· This is easily made ahead to this point for quick assembly before baking.

· Poke a few holes into the squash with a fork and microwave 3 minutes to soften. Once cooled enough to handle, carefully cut squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard (or roast for a tasty snack).

· In a medium bowl, mix together the whipping cream, ricotta cheese, nutmeg, and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup fontina or mozzerella cheese and 1/2 cup provolone cheese.

· Place the squash in a baking dish (trim the bottoms, if necessary so they sit flat) and season the cut sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining fontina cheese into the bottom of each squash, then evenly divide meat sauce among the squash cavities, leaving room for cheese topping.

· Spoon the cream/cheese mix over the meat sauce. Top with the remaining provolone cheese. Cover the squash loosely with foil.

· Transfer to the oven and bake 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking another 15-20 minutes or until the squash is tender and the cheese is golden brown on top.

· Let the squash sit 5 minutes. Top each squash with a sprig of thyme or sage for a decorative touch. Transfer to individual dinner plates along with your favourite tossed green salad and garlic toast, if desired. Reheat any extra meat sauce and serve in a separate bowl for hungry guests to top up their dish





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