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Originally published February 21, 2012 at 3:02 PM | Page modified February 22, 2012 at 4:40 AM

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Spaghetti squash can be a side or main dish

Chef Mario Batali puts his culinary stamp on this recipe for spaghetti squash.

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A couple of weeks ago, my son Leo broke his arm on the basketball court. We stayed close to home for a few days, so we needed the sort of food that would warm us inside. This recipe did the trick.

The Italian word "zucca" is used to describe gourds and squash, as well as pumpkins. "Fiori di zucca" is what we call zucchini flowers. Spaghetti squash is referred to as "spaghetti di zucca," or vegetable spaghetti.

Though spaghetti squash is available on the Italian peninsula, it isn't a traditional Italian ingredient, per se.

When I started cooking in New York almost two decades ago, I was doing a new kind of Italian. It was reported as a "deluxe" version of the cooking found in the Italian countryside. To me, it was a logical next step. I used the techniques and preparations I had learned during my time in Italy and adapted them in new ways for American ingredients.

There's no traditional Italian preparation of spaghetti squash, but you can, no doubt, approach it with an Italian-ness. You can bake it with olive oil, salt and pepper and add Italian parsley or sage for additional flavor, as I do in this preparation. Alternatively, you can eat it just as you would spaghetti, with tomato sauce, for a vegetarian, gluten-free pasta.

At this time of year, you have to scour the grocery aisles to find what's freshest. Like acorn squash, spaghetti squash is available year-round. During the winter, this is a tasty seasonal option that works just as well as a main course as it does as a side dish.

Spaghetti squash is a daunting vegetable, but this recipe makes it remarkably easy. It's great as a side dish or a main course, to be paired with a meat or a pasta. And because it's gluten-free, it's a nice addition to a party spread.

James Beard Award-winner Mario Batali, a Seattle-area native, is a chef, restaurateur, author and TV personality. His latest book is "Molto Batali."

Spaghetti Squash With Soft Herbs and Robiola

Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish

2 small spaghetti squash (about 2 ¼ pounds each)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

6 ounces fresh soft Robiola, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (you may substitute cream cheese)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (white and about 2 inches of the greens)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Using a sharp knife, cut each squash in half lengthwise. Place them, cut side down, in a large baking dish. Add enough water to reach 1/2 inch up the sides of the dish, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the squash is easily pierced with a paring knife.

3. Turn the squash over, cover with foil again, and bake for another 15 minutes, until the squash is very tender. Remove from the oven, uncover and allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, remove and discard the seeds. Using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the peel, and place the squash strands in a mixing bowl.

4. In a 14-inch skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat until it is foaming. Then add the Robiola and stir to melt. Add the spaghetti squash, herbs and salt and pepper, and toss thoroughly but gently to heat and combine. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

From Mario Batali's "Molto Batali"

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