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Appreciate squash for more than their looks

Beautiful orange, blue and speckled green squash of all shapes and sizes are everywhere this time of year — and they’re not just for decorating!

Varieties like butternut, acorn, delicata, spaghetti and kabocha are bountiful at the Mill City Farmers Market, which moves inside the Mill City Museum on select Saturdays November through April.

Contrary to most recipes, there is no need to peel winter squash, especially organically grown thin-skinned varieties like delicata, butternut and acorn. Squash skin is completely edible and adds color, texture, nutrients and fiber to your dishes.

Before cooking, thoroughly wash the outside of the squash to remove any dirt. To prepare, cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Keep in mind squash seeds can be saved and roasted for snacking just like pumpkin seeds.

If desired or if cooking a squash with tough skin, peel the squash after it has been partially or completely cooked. Winter squash has a nutty and sweet flavor, and it is commonly used in hearty winter soups, sautéed or roasted like in the squash gratin recipe here, a perfect and elegant Thanksgiving side dish.

You can find locally and organically grown winter squash at the Mill City Farmers Market’s Thanksgiving Harvest Markets Nov. 11 and 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. inside the Mill City Museum, 704 S. 2nd St.

Find more information and recipes at


Squash gratin with cilantro pesto

By market chef Jenny Breen

Serves 8


For the Gratin

  • 1 large or 2 small butternut or other meaty squash (like kabocha or buttercup) peeled and cut into slices 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches wide (cut butternut squash in half lengthwise, then slice; for rounder squash, cut in quarters lengthwise and then slice)
  • 3 carrots, sliced diagonally, long and thin
  • 3 medium gold beets, peeled and sliced
  • 3 medium parsnips or turnips or a combination, peeled and sliced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Cilantro Pesto

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 bunch cilantro or a combination of fresh herbs
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds or pecans
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Optional Toppings

  • 1/2 cup feta or blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup asiago or other hard cheese, grated
  • chopped pitted olives
  • chopped or sliced tomatoes


Combine root vegetables with olive oil, balsamic and salt. Roast at 350 degrees until tender, stirring regularly for about 15–20 minutes. Alternatively, sautee in large skillet with olive oil and salt, covering to allow to cook and caramelize until tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Prepare cilantro pesto by combining all of the pesto ingredients in food processor or blender, adjusting the pesto with more oil or cilantro for desired texture to your taste, and set aside.

When root vegetables have cooled, layer in a deep baking dish as follows: root vegetables, pesto, feta, blue or goat cheese. Repeat layers and finish with the asiago.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes, or covered on medium flame until heated through and cheese is thoroughly melted, about 7 minutes.