COOK CLUB JANUARY: Get a head start on dinner with a slow-cooked ragu

Carly Weber
Published: January 8 2014 | 9:15 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:50 am in

When the heart of winter hits and daytime temperatures stay well below freezing, there’s a lot to be said for coming home to a warm meal bubbling away in a slow cooker.

That’s why we chose to kick off The Gazette KCRG Cook Club with a recipe for Slow Cooker Turkey Ragu with Spaghetti Squash that is a healthful, slow-cooked twist on a comfort food classic.

This savory sauce is made with lean turkey and, like any ragu, its flavors richen and deepen over a long simmer time, making it an ideal candidate for your Crockpot.

You could serve this sauce over pasta, of course, but to keep the dish on the lighter side, try piling it on top of strands of spaghetti squash.

When cooked, the flesh of this mild-flavored oblong yellow squash separates into long, noodlelike strands. Find it alongside other winter squashes in local grocery stores. Look for one that feels heavy and firm and has no bruises.

One cup of spaghetti squash contains just 42 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrates per cup, compared with 221 calories and 43 grams of carbohydrates for a cup of spaghetti. The squash also is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber and antioxidants.

We adapted this recipe from a stovetop ragu recipe posted on the popular health food blog Skinnytaste, making it with turkey instead of beef and converting it to the slow cooker. We found this version was just as tasty and warming as the original.

Our only complaint: After the dish had sat for a few minutes, it began to get watery. So we suggest serving in bowls and adding the ragu to the squash just before serving. Other suggestions we found on cooking blogs and forums include roasting the spaghetti squash faceup in the oven so that it is drier (we used the microwave because it’s quicker) or to put the cooked spaghetti squash strands in a sieve, salt them, let them sit for a few minutes, then press the water out.

Let us know if you try any of these tips, or if you have others.

Slow Cooker Turkey Ragu with Spaghetti Squash

Makes 8 servings

1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for cooking spaghetti squash (optional)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 Vidalia onion, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced (for about 3/4 cup)

1 stalk celery, diced

1 pound ground turkey (we used Honeysuckle White Mild Italian Turkey Sausage)

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 bay leaf

1 sprig rosemary

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

2 medium or 1 large spaghetti squash (about 6 pounds total), for about 8 cups cooked squash

Parmesan cheese, shredded

Heat oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add the turkey and cook until browned, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat into smaller pieces.

Transfer mixture to a slow-cooker. Add tomatoes, chicken broth, bay leaf and rosemary. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Before serving, remove the bay leaf and rosemary, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti squash.* Carefully cut the squash in half lengthwise using a very sharp knife. (To make cutting the squash in half easier, slice off the very bottom or top of the squash so that it can stand flat on your cutting board). Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. It can then be cooked in either the oven or the microwave.

To cook the squash in the oven, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash halves cut-side-up on a roasting pan. Brush with olive oil and season with salt if desired. Cook for an hour, or until the flesh of the squash is tender.

To cook the squash in the microwave, place squash halves in a microwave-safe dish, cut side down. Add about 1/2 inch of water to the dish. Cover and microwave about 9 minutes, or until the flesh of the squash is tender.

After cooking, let the squash sit for about 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle, then use a fork to scrape the flesh of the squash into stringy “noodles.”

*The spaghetti squash also can be cooked in advance and stored overnight (or up to about 3 days) in the refrigerator, then reheated in the microwave.

To serve, top one cup cooked spaghetti squash with 3/4 cup ragu sauce. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese.

Nutrition data (calculated using per serving (1 cup squash, 3/4 cup sauce and 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan): 215 calories, 8 g fat, 21 g carbohydrate, 16 g protein.

Recipe inspired by; adapted by Gazette KCRG-TV9 Cook Club

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