Pasta's low cost, appealing texture and versatility make it a favorite in many households, but it does have a few shortcomings. Ordinary white pasta is relatively low in fiber and nutrition, while whole-grain or gluten-free pastas are sometimes unsatisfactory in flavor or texture. Pasta is also relatively high in calories and carbohydrates, both concerns for weight-conscious cooks. For those who want to shy away from spaghetti and other traditional noodles, a few vegetable-based substitutions can easily improve your meals.
The most obvious vegetable replacement for spaghetti is spaghetti squash, bred specifically to fill that niche. It's a winter squash that shreds easily into fine spaghetti-like stands when cooked, with a moist texture and a delicate flavor that's slightly sweeter than zucchini and other squash. Just cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then bake it until it's tender. When it's cool enough to handle, use a fork to shred the flesh from the edge of the squash to its center. Once it's shredded, toss or mound the spaghetti squash with your favorite sauce or bake it in a casserole.
Spaghetti squash is mostly available in the fall, but zucchini can be found all year in most supermarkets. If you own a mandoline -- that flat gizmo with various slicing and julienne blades -- you can quickly turn a zucchini into vegetable spaghetti or fettuccine. If not, use a vegetable peeler to cut thin strips, then slice them lengthwise with a sharp knife. Blanch the zucchini in boiling water for a few minutes until it's limp but still slightly firm, and toss it with your choice of sauces.
Although zucchini and related summer squashes are the easiest vegetables to cut as a pasta replacement, you can use other vegetables as well. Long vegetables such as carrots and parsnips are easily julienned on a mandoline, giving noodle-like shreds. With a rotary mandoline, the kind that cranks the vegetable vertically onto a set of blades, you can turn round vegetables such as beets, kohlrabi or rutabagas into tangled, curly nests of pasta-like strands. Boil them until just tender, then toss them with an appropriate sauce.
Sometimes, the simplest option is just to buy vegetable noodles. Most Asian markets and many supermarkets carry a type of clear cellophane-like noodle made from the starch of mung beans. Typically labeled in English as "bean thread" or "bean stick," these need only brief cooking in water or broth to soften them. Use them in place of Western-style spaghetti in many dishes.
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