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What to make for dinner when a rich dessert is on the menu

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Considering a rich dessert like pastries, ice cream or the like, I would tend to recommend a dinner salad for the menu, but considering that Valentine's Day falls in midwinter, perhaps we might like to do something more hearty. This has been a bad winter so far, even though Southern Arizona has not suffered from the storms that pass over us as rain and then morph into what we have seen to the north and east of the Sonora Desert.

So why not go all Big Six and do a hot, hearty soup for dinner when there is dessert yet to come? I was thinking of Minestrone, an Italian classic that is as easy to make as any other soup, although there is more to it than opening a can.

But many of the ingredients for Minestrone can be found in canned form, and in the area of canned foods there has been quite a bit of progress in organics. If you look over the canned goods at Safeway you will see their O brand (for Organics) right next to many, many products these days. And if you decide to shop for your soup ingredients at Sprouts or Whole Foods, you can find everything not only organic, but gluten-free if you look for breadsticks, which are fun with Italian food.

Not only are there GF bread and rolls in the local health-food market, but you can find GF pasta as well. So if you want to be kind to someone in your family who avoids wheat protein, just check off that item on your list when you shop. This recipe was adapted for organics from the Food Network's Chef Ellie Kriegel.

CLASSIC MINESTRONE

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons organic extra-virgin olive oil
1 large organic onion, diced
4 cloves organic garlic, minced
2 stalks organic celery, diced
1 large organic carrot, diced
1/2 pound organic green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 28-ounce can organic diced tomatoes
1 14-ounce can organic crushed tomatoes
6 cups organic beef broth or stock
1 15-ounce can organic kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup organic elbow pasta
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the celery and carrot and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the green beans, dried oregano and basil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; cook 3 more minutes.

Add the diced and crushed tomatoes and broth to the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans and pasta and cook until the pasta and vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt. Ladle into bowls and top with the parmesan and chopped basil.

In anticipation of Valentine's Day falling this year on a Friday, this soup could be made any night of the week beforehand and either kept refrigerated of divided into portions that can be held in the fridge and/or frozen. With your breadsticks and cold butter, you can be ready for that dinner, with the dessert ready on the side and the coffee in the pot ready to be brewed at the touch of a button.

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