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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Hearty Pasta e Fagioli for Cool Weather

Pasta e fagioli, Italian pasta and bean soup, is a nourishing dish. “What a healthy, hearty, and delicious soup for the fall and winter,” says SaraASR.

smtucker praises Mario Batali’s recipe, which begins with sautéing onion and parsley. “Cooking the parsley for a full 10 minutes was a test of faith the first time I made it,” says smtucker, adding, “But what an amazing amount of flavor.” If the soup is refrigerated, the pasta absorbs the broth and becomes soggy; add pasta only to the amount that will be eaten immediately.

lexpatti likes to purée a cup of broth and beans and return it to the pot before adding the pasta. “Makes it a bit creamy,” she says. cassoulady recommends adding a Parmesan rind to enhance the soup’s flavor. Cheese Boy suggests adding a small pat of lightly salted butter or a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to each bowl after serving, saying, “Your pasta e fagioli will suddenly become memorable then because these two lastly added ingredients will put it over the top.”

roxlet makes a nonsoupy pasta e fagioli without tomatoes. She adds cooked pasta to olive oil, beans, garlic, parsley, salt, and red pepper flakes, adding pasta cooking water and tossing with Pecorino Romano. Andrew_Cookbooker likes this version, with spinach, carrot, and potato.

Board Link: Pasta Fagioli

Squash for Dessert

There is more than pumpkin pie when it comes to winter squash desserts. Butternut, acorn, and kabocha squash all translate easily into sweets.

chocoabot likes this citrus squash tart because its flavor is different than the typical warm spices paired with pumpkin. jsaimd loves kabocha squash cheesecake with walnut crust from Pichet Ong (P*ong).

“Squash slices layer up wonderfully with apples in a baked crisp,” says 4Snisl, who uses equal amounts of each. paulj recommends Ecuadoran dulce de zapallo, squash poached in a spiced brown sugar syrup, which is often paired with fresh cheese.

Board Link: Squash-y Dessert??

New Finds: The Grand Central Baking Book

The new cookbook from the minichain of Grand Central bakeries scattered throughout Portland and Seattle is full of simple, classic recipes: clafouti; rustic fruit tarts organized by season; “hand pies” filled with spicy potatoes or steak and onion; homemade graham cracker sandwich cookies filled with vanilla cream … the list goes on. It’s not a book of fancy trendy things, just stuff that is timelessly appealing, presented in a way that feels accessible and nonintimidating. It would be a nice gift for someone just getting interested in baking.

The Grand Central Baking Book, $30

Pesto Without Pine Nuts

While pine nuts are most often called for in basil pesto, Chowhounds use a variety of nuts and herbs in pestos.

Hounds are split in preferring pine nuts or walnuts in their basil pesto, though a few use almonds. ZagChef uses roasted macadamias (he adds only half the amount of nuts called for), and TroyTempest has enjoyed it with pistachios. rozz01 makes a pesto of Italian parsley, cilantro, and cashews that her guests love, and hotoynoodle likes walnuts in parsley pesto.

Pesto freezes well, and is handy portioned in small containers or frozen in an ice cube tray, with the frozen cubes then stored in a freezer bag. Hounds recommend brushing or spraying the ice cube tray with oil before filling to help with release of the frozen pesto.

Board Link: pesto pine nuts or walnuts?

Co-op or Salt Mine? Ask an MFA.

Thesis of a recent New York Times first-person story about the Park Slope Food Coop: It’s really, really difficult to work at a co-op for 2.75 hours every four weeks.

Actual point proven by the New York Times’ first-person story about the Park Slope Food Coop: You kind of get what you pay for when you ask an MFA in poetry to perform manual labor.

Of course, Park Slope Food Coop horror stories are hardly unknown to us here at CHOW.

Image source: Flickr member stevendamron under Creative Commons

It’s Game On at the Food Network

On November 3, the Food Network’s new Wii game, Cook or Be Cooked, is scheduled for release. Though Eat Me Daily says the game appears to be a rejiggered version of Cooking Mama, Tracey John, a self-professed “terrible cook” at Wired, kinda got into it:

“Most of the motion gameplay involved a lot of shaking controllers to mimic the actions you’d do in actual cooking: Waggle the Wii remote to shake out the seasoning and cut vegetables; shake the Nunchuk to retrieve your saucepan or bowl; tilt the remote to oil the saucepan, pour liquids and turn the stove on and off.

“There’s also a timer for how long each item should be cooked, so you have to watch the clock. Thankfully, to speed things up you simply hit the C button. To earn extra points, try multitasking by beginning to cut and cook the potatoes for the potato salad while handling other food-prep chores.”

Hey! Sounds like my kitchen where I grind out a dinner every single night.

Complicated Does Not Equal Better

“Over and over again, I prove to myself that more time spent in the planning and preparation of a meal does not necessarily make for a more delicious, more enjoyable, more exquisite meal,” says CindyJ. Call it the law of diminishing culinary returns. Great effort does not necessarily yield great food, and sometimes the most memorable food is a great ingredient in a simple presentation.

“The general rule is that the higher the quality of the ingredients, the less you need to do with them,” says Ellen. Good-quality fresh food—dry-aged, organic grass-fed beef; farmers’ market veggies; fresh local butter—needs little intervention or extensive preparation to shine, she says. “On the other hand, I once spent hours making a classic beef Wellington that was beautiful but such a yawn compared to the effort.”

shaogo agrees. “The more complicated (I say ‘convoluted’) my plans for dinner become, I guarantee you the ‘wow’ effect of a dish (or of the whole meal) diminishes,” he says. “Like others who’ve posted here, some of my best ‘home-run’ dinners were created à la minute from a short list of simple ingredients.”

Board Link: The Laws of Diminishing (Culinary) Returns

How’s the Hospital Food?

greygarious was recently, uh, privileged to sample his local hospital food—and his Chowhound sensibilities were scarred for life. “I ordered a side salad [and] it was a tiny bowl with perhaps a half cup of lettuce and a slice each of cucumber and tomato,” he says. “I could understand small servings of the less healthy items but you’d think they’d size in such a way as to promote the healthier foods.”

Pei finds the same to be true of her local hospitals. Expect such delights as “chicken broth that tastes like it was made from powder, gummy oatmeal, ultra-pasteurized juice and Jell-O that taste like they’ve been cooked to death and yet are still chock full of chemicals, bleh,” says Pei. “I feel sad just thinking about it.” taos was served “Jell-O (essentially sugar water), super salty chicken broth, white toast, and tons of butter”—on a cardiac ward, no less.

There is a trend, however, toward hospitals providing tasty food that might be healthy enough not to undermine their healthcare mission. shaogo has had experience with good, made-from-scratch food at a hospital, which contributed to patients gaining much-needed weight. Pia has also had a great experience with hospital food: “delicious salad with spinach and strawberries, and really good cheesecake” were among her selections. This is a hot trend. “Hospital food-service operations all over the country are starting to serve very good quality food,” says shaogo. “It’s in all of the industry magazines. Slowly but surely, the days when hospital entrees were flavorless rubber, and hospital veggies were sulfurous gray gack, are ending.”

Board Link: How is the hospital food where you live?

A (Nude) Coffee Break with Consequences

Apparently, drinking coffee in the nude—even in one’s own house—can have legal consequences. The CBS Crimesider blog covers the harrowing story of a dude in Springfield, Virginia, who woke up, happily noted that his roommates were gone, and had a cup of coffee without bothering to put on clothes.

“Things got complicated when a passer-by spotted the bare-skinned barista while taking her 7-year-old son to the local school bus stop.”

The onlooker alleges that the man exposed himself at his doorway and in his front window. Was the guy ignorantly stumbling around in the buff or a pervert? It’s now up to a court to decide. If found guilty of deliberately exposing himself, the man faces misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a year in jail.

Mexican Oregano Is Not from Mexico

Some recipes call for Mexican oregano. Does that just mean oregano produced in Mexico? Nope, says MazDee. “Since I live in Mexico, and buy oregano here, I always figured it WAS Mexican oregano,” she says. But while traveling she noticed Mexican oregano plants for sale that had big leaves and didn’t resemble the more commonly used Greek oregano. “I am astounded!” she says. In fact, so-called Mexican oregano is a close relative of lemon verbena.

Mexican and Greek oregano are different plants, but both are lovely for their appropriate uses. “I use both Greek and Mexican oregano for different recipes,” says bushwickgirl.

Board Link: Mexican Oregano