Minestrone with south-of-the border flair Hearty vegetable dish a perfect choice for short-order meal


A thick, bubbly vegetable minestrone is the perfect choice for a nourishing meal when time is short. The word means "big soup" in Italian -- it's almost a meal in itself. The vegetable juice used in the dish acts as a flavorful and healthy soup stock.

This rendition has a flair from southern borders with crunchy nachos dripping with melted cheese as an irresistible side dish.

To begin, heat your oven to 450 degrees to prepare for the nachos. Then begin the soup recipe below.

While the soup simmers, you can get started on the nachos. Place one layer of tortilla chips on a flat baking sheet and top with shredded Monterey jack or Cheddar cheese. Pop in the oven for about eight to 10 minutes during the final stages of the soup simmer time. Remove to a platter and serve warm.

Continue the Mexican theme with a luscious fruit salsa for dessert, combining fresh chopped strawberries, raspberries, pineapple and oranges.

To save time, purchase the assorted fruit from your supermarket salad bar or buy the precut packaged fruit many supermarkets are now supplying. Douse the fruit with some sherry or orange juice and mix. This is best if allowed to flavor for at least 30 minutes, so prepare the dessert before the rest of the meal.

To serve, top with a scoop of cool and creamy vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream.

Items you should have as staples are: vegetable juice cocktail, sour cream, tortilla chips, shredded jack or Cheddar cheese, 1 orange, sherry or orange juice, vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream.

Your 10-item or-less shopping list:

12 ounces bulk sausage or smoked sausage

1 (6-ounce) package Spanish rice mix (not instant)

1 (16 ounce) package frozen vegetable blend of corn, broccoli and red bell peppers

1 (16-ounce) can black beans

fresh fruit such as strawberries, raspberries and peeled pineapple

Mexi-minestrone with sausage

Serves four

12 ounces bulk sausage or smoked sausage, sliced into 1/4 -inch rounds

6 cups vegetable juice cocktail (48-ounce can)

2 cups water

1 (6-ounce) package Spanish rice

1 (16-ounce) package frozen vegetable blend of corn, broccoli ,, and red bell pepper, thawed

1 (16-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

Heat a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium high until hot. Add sausage and cook five minutes or until lightly browned. If using bulk sausage, break it up with a fork. Drain off fat and then add vegetable juice, water and rice mix with seasoning package. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, then cover, over heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add vegetable mixture and simmer another five minutes. Stir in beans and heat until hot. Serve in individual bowls topped with a spoonful of sour cream, if desired.

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