One of our little victories this past year was finally figuring out ways to use squash in our cooking. And a smaller victory within that campaign was discovering that egg-noodlelike strands of spaghetti squash remained at noodlelike lengths when the squash was sliced crosswise rather than lengthwise, since the strands were wrapped concentrically around the long axis of the squash. We went on a spree of serving noodle soup dishes with low-carb spaghetti squash over the holidays (future post topic) but there were refinements still to be made.
We loved the flavor and especially the smokiness roasted spaghetti squash noodle imparted to our noodle soups. The crunchiness was also a novel and welcome addition to the noodle soup experience. Still, sometimes we missed the resilience of traditional noodles. And sometimes, we did not achieve smokiness before the squash strands turned mushy. When the always inspiring Cooking Issues blog did an article on the wonders of lime paste in Central American and Asian cuisine, we thought we might have a technique to help us with our quandaries.
Calcium hydroxide ( Ca(OH)2 ) in lime paste is a potent modulator of food texture. Specifically relevant to our case, Ca(OH)2 cross-links fruit pectins to produce crunchier, more resilient cooked fruits. The example in the Cooking Issues article was the Thai technique of soaking bananas in lime water before frying.
The first step was to make slaked lime. Ca(OH)2 is only weakly soluble in water, so lime powder + water tends to produce a saturated solution + a little less lime powder that needs to settle. Once the solution cleared, we had our slaked lime.
Spaghetti squash quarters were soaked for 0, 15, 30 (usual banana soaking time), and 45 minutes. They were then roasted at 375 degrees for half an hour. After an initial taste test, they were microwaved for another 2 minutes on high.
After roasting, the different squash quarters were not much different from each other texturally. The 30′ and 45′ soaked squash took on a slight hint of the minerally (cementy according to Cooking Issue) smell of Ca(OH)2. Surprisingly, this addition made the squash smell more like noodles. Or unsurprisingly as a great many noodles are made by alkaline modification of grains starch.
After microwaving, the untreated and 15′ squash quarters were mushy, so the two steps of cooking simulated a less than perfect day in the oven. Encouragingly, the 30′ and 45′ squash quarters remained crunchy with overcooking. Perhaps finer adjustments of soaking and cooking time would produce a crunchy outer layer and a soft core. However, the resilience of noodles was still missing. I wonder how we can achieve that.
In conclusion, Ca(OH)2 treatment of spaghetti squash produced a dose-dependent protection of crunchiness while adding a noodlelike aroma to spaghetti squash. Definitely worth pursuing further.