Saffron & Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Squash Gratin
Saffron, without a doubt, is an expensive spice to work with. I’m a bit of a deal hunter when it comes to it and always search around when I’m traveling to see if I can get it on the cheap. I remember spotting it in the medina in Marrakech for a ridiculously low price and basically carting home a bushel full. It wasn’t incredibly fragrant (and quite frankly the color was off) but eh, it was saffron! It’s been sitting in my spice cabinet ever since – the lousiest, tasteless saffron I’ve ever met…and somehow I still won’t part with it.
The saffron for this dish I picked up during my visit to Mercat de la Boqueria a few months back. I still trekked around to each stall that sold it to make sure I got the cheapest one! Got it right this time. This stuff has an incredible perfume and was beautiful in this dish.
When I dug deep into why I thought spaghetti squash and saffron would pair well together, I realized the mental origin of this dish might seem a bit strange. There’s a South Asian pudding that can be made with either rice or vermicelli called kheer; it’s often scented with saffron. This, to me, was like a savoury version of it.
The saffron, of course, compliments the flavor of the spaghetti squash, which I boost a bit with a touch of brown sugar. The sweet, roasted garlic adds a lovely nuttiness and works incredibly well with the freshly grated parm. I love this dish. It’s a bit sinful, but healthier as far as gratins go since we’re using squash. Cheesy, creamy, nutty with the perfume of saffron – Enjoy!
Yields 1 2-quart casserole dish
2 medium-sized spaghetti squash
5 garlic cloves
salt and freshly ground pepper
½ stick butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
¼ cup crème fraiche
generous pinch of saffron
pinch of cayenne
a few dashes of hot sauce
1 ½ tsps light brown sugar
½ cup freshly grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Poke holes with a knife into the spaghetti squash on all sides and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Season garlic cloves with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and wrap separately in foil.
Bake the squash for 1 hour turning every 15 to 20 minutes. Cooking time may vary depending on the size of the squash. Let it cool. Split the squash lengthwise (should easily cut) and remove the seeds. The flesh should be easy to pull out – if not, place it cut side up back on the baking sheet and cook for a bit longer. I like to use a fork around the edges to pull out the squash flesh. You want all of it to be separate, like spaghetti. Reserve in a bowl.
Remove the garlic after another 15 minutes or so. It should be soft, caramelized, and smell nutty and fragrant.
Reduce oven to 350° F.
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add flour and cook 2 to 3 minutes, whisking continuously. Add milk, crème fraiche, saffron, cayenne, hot sauce and sugar. At this point, you can purée the roasted garlic and add it. I actually just added the cloves right in and used my whisk and the heat to break it up. Continue to whisk and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes. It should be at a slow bubble.
Combine béchamel mixture with squash and transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the freshly grated parmesan all over the top, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes until brown and bubbly.