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MINESTRONE - IN MINUTES INSTEAD OF HOURS

Published: Sunday, Jan. 21 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Italian cuisine purists, look the other way.

You may not like what you see here - a microwave recipe for Winter Minestrone. Or lighten up and give it a try.It's simply hard to beat a homemade soup on a winter night - prepared from beginning to end in 30-40 minutes (depending on how fast you are at chopping a few vegetables). There are a few compromises - canned broth, canned kidney beans instead of fresh, canned tomatoes.

But it's chock-full of fresh vegetables and flavor. I expect you could tell a difference between a bowl of this and a bowl cooked the traditional way. The long-simmering version will have a more robust and mature flavor, perhaps.

But the microwave version is delicious, too, sacrificing not so much that you won't be glad to have your soup in this amount of time. You begin by cooking onion and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil for one minute. Then vegetables are added and cooked for eight minutes, then broth and beans and seasoning are added and cooked for another 10 minutes. (If you're using a lower-powered microwave, it'll take longer, but it's easy to adjust.)

At the end, cooked pasta is stirred in and freshly grated Parmesan is sprinkled atop. To make it extra special, add a dollop of warmed pesto sauce - one of the good prepared versions you can buy at the supermarket.

For dessert to follow this, try Warm Caramel Pears, another quickie. The fruit is quartered and tossed with butter, sugar and cream and baked.

*****

RECIPES

WARM CARAMEL PEARS

1/2 teaspoon butter

2 large pears, peeled, cored and cut into quarters

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Coat the pear pieces with butter, sugar and cream and transfer to a glass or porcelain baking dish. Bake until sugar and cream turn a light caramel color and pears are cooked through, eight to 12 minutes. Serve warm.

- "Quick Cuisine," by Ann Clark, Penquin, 1993

WINTER MINESTRONE

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

1 cup diced potato

1/2 cup sliced carrot

1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

1 cup shredded cabbage

1 can (8 ounces) tomatoes, undrained, coarsely chopped

1 can (151/2 ounces) kidney beans, undrained

1 cup vegetable, beef or chicken stock, or water

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup small pasta

Freshly grated Parmesan

In two-quart microwave-safe casserole, combine oil, garlic and onion. Cover tightly with lid or plastic wrap turned back slightly. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Add potato, carrot, celery and cabbage. Drain juice from tomatoes into casserole. Cover and cook on high for 6 to 8 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes, beans, broth, par-sley, basil and pepper.

Cover again and cook on high for 8 to 10 minutes, or until heated through. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water on stove until al dente. Drain and stir into soup at end of cooking time, sprinkle with Parmesan. Serves four.

- "Home Cooking in Minutes" by Thelma Snyder and Marcia Cone-Esaki, Simon & Schuster

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