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Fennel Minestrone with White Beans and Sausage (Minestrone Finocchio)
This creative take on the classic minestrone, though it contains meat, is lighter than the standard dish

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons fruity olive oil
1 pound Italian sweet sausage, skinned and crumbled
4 cups coarsely chopped fennel bulb (about 1 pound)
2 cups sliced leeks (white and green parts)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
1 quart chicken stock
28-ounce can tomatoes in tomato purée
1 cup dried beans, such as cannellini, soaked and cooked according to package directions (about 2 cups cooked)
1 cup cooked elbow macaroni
1/2 cup firmly packed, shredded fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
16 rounds of French or Italian bread, about 1/3 inch thick, well toasted and rubbed with split garlic cloves
Parmigiano-Reggiano for garnish
fresh fennel leaves for garnish

Directions:
1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pan. Sauté the sausage over high heat until well browned, about 5 minutes. Drain the fat from the pan, leaving a teaspoon behind. Place pan over low heat, and add the fennel bulb, leeks, garlic, and crushed fennel seeds. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and the tomatoes with purée, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
2. When ready to serve, add the beans, the macaroni, and the basil. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Place 2 rounds of toast in the center of each of 8 wide, shallow soup bowls. Spoon the soup over the toasts. Grate the Parmigianio-Reggiano over the toasts to taste, and sprinkle the frilly fennel leaves in a circle around the toasts (use at least 1 tablespoon of leaves per bowl).

This creative take on the classic minestrone, though it contains meat, is lighter than the standard dish. Serves 8