DINNER IN 40 MINUTES

Summer Minestrone

4 servings

This is not a typical minestrone.

It's a much lighter, quicker rendition that allows the flavors of fresh summer vegetables to shout. If desired, add a handful of asparagus or fresh peas with the zucchini.

From "The Flavors of Southern Italy" by Erica De Mane (Wiley & Sons, 2004).

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling

2 young leeks (white and light-green parts), finely diced

1 sweet onion, finely diced

1 small bulb fennel, cored and finely diced

3 inner celery stalks, finely diced (optional)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 medium zucchini, finely diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 cups chicken broth

3/4 cup uncooked anellini pasta (may substitute other small soup pasta; raw, diced potato; or cooked rice)

5 or 6 green Swiss chard or escarole leaves, coarsely chopped

About 6 fresh basil leaves, ripped into pieces

Squeeze lemon juice (optional)

Grated pecorino cheese

In a large, wide pot over medium heat, heat the oil. (The surface area of a wide pot allows the contents to come to a boil quickly; this helps to keep the vegetables from becoming mushy or losing their bright green color.) Add the leeks, onion, fennel and celery if desired and saute until the vegetables are just becoming tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini, season with salt and pepper to taste and saute for another 3 minutes or so. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the zucchini is almost tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta or potatoes until tender. Drain, transfer to a bowl, drizzle with oil and toss to combine. Set aside.

Add the chard to the pot and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the pasta or potatoes or cooked rice and heat for 1 minute. If the soup becomes too thick with the addition of the pasta, add a little hot water. Add the basil and, if desired, a squeeze of lemon juice to sharpen the flavors. Add a few grinds of pepper and a generous drizzle of oil. Taste for seasonings. Serve hot or lukewarm and pass the pecorino on the side.

Per serving: 404 calories, 14 gm protein, 52 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 352 mg sodium, 6 gm dietary fiber

-- Renee Schettler

Book Report

* A Man, a Can, a Microwave: 50 Tasty Meals You Can Nuke in No Time, by David Joachim and the editors of Men's Health Magazine Rodale, $15.95

Many a dad's favorite dinner trick -- opening a can and nuking its contents -- is elevated to an art form in this follow-up to "A Man, a Can, a Plan" and "A Man, a Can, a Grill." There's nothing fancy-schmancy here -- we're talking Teriyaki Beef with Broccoli and Maui Beany-Weenies -- but the sturdy kitchen-safe book, made of the same slick, thick pages as children's board books, contains 43 relatively healthful ways to put dinner on the table. In typical men's magazine-speak, the book also covers the perils of microwaving in plastic, other wattage-related stuff and random can-opener trivia.

-- Renee Schettler

Hot, Aren't They?

We're crazy about these flexible spatulas, but not for the obvious reason. The nylon head has just the right amount of give, but it's the offset shape of the stainless-steel handle that we most appreciate, because it allows us to maneuver even within a deep-sided cast-iron skillet.

Amco flexible spatulas ($8 and $9)

are available in Williams-Sonoma stores and catalogues (call 877-812-6235 or see www.williams- sonoma.com).

Cheez-It Envy

Guppies. Bunnies. Squares. Sea horses. Cheddar crackers now come in all combinations of shapes, shades of orange and all-natural ingredients.

We tasted six brands that do not contain hydrogenated oils or artificial colors. The cheesiest by far, and our favorite: Our Family Farm Captain's Catch Baked Cheese Crackers ($2.49 per six-ounce box; look for a box with a cartoon fisherman and rowboat at natural food stores).

They're not quite Cheez-Its. But then, that's the point.

Lemme Do It

Recent research suggests that teaching kids to cook may enhance their self-esteem, happiness and sense of family togetherness.

A survey of 1,000 children ages 10 to 17 by Betty Crocker Kitchens found that:

* Nearly 90 percent of kids feel proud when they have cooked something.

* 80 percent say cooking is fun.

* 94 percent like that the whole family eats dinner together.

* More than 70 percent said they would be willing to do some of the cooking if it helped their families eat dinner together more often.

Today's Tip

To minimize unsightly clutter near the kitchen sink, pour dishwashing liquid from the plastic bottle into a cruet, like the one shown at right.

-- Adapted from an early issue of Martha Stewart Living

To Do

THURSDAY: Bruno Giacosa Piedmontese wine dinner at Galileo Restaurant. Special guest: Bruna Giacosa. Sponsored by MacArthur Beverages. $129 includes tax and tip. 6:30 p.m. 1110 21st St. NW. Call 202-222-0185.

THURSDAY: Bounty of the Bay -- champagne dinner at Butterfield 9 Restaurant. $115 includes tax and tip. 6:30 p.m. 600 14th St. NW. Call 202-289-8810.

FRIDAY-SUNDAY: Virginia wine and food tastings at the Alexandria Red Cross Waterfront Festival. Adults $7 before 6 p.m., $15 after 6. Children $5. Friday: 6-11 p.m.; Saturday: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Oronoco Bay Park, Madison and North Fairfax streets, Old Town. Call 703-549-8300, Ext. 207.

SATURDAY: Taste of the Town; from local restaurants at Reston Town Center. Free admission; tastings $1-$5. Noon-10 p.m. Reston Town Center Pavilion. Call 703-707-9045 or see www.restonchamber.org.

SATURDAY-SUNDAY: Great American Barbecue Roadshow and Music Festival -- grilling competition featuring teams from the United States and Canada. Adults, $10; children under 13, free. 11 a.m - 11 p.m. Kent Island, Chesapeake Bay Business Center, Route 8. Call 877-742-7872.

RESERVE NOW

JUNE 23: French wine dinner at Blackie's Restaurant. Sponsored by Cleveland Park Wines. $85 includes tax and tip. 7-9 p.m. 1217 22nd St. NW. Call 202-333-1100. JUNE 25: Italian wine dinner at Signatures Restaurant. $78 excludes tax and tip. 6:30 p.m. 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Call 202-628-5900.

JUNE 26-27: National Capital Barbecue Battle -- contest, demonstrations featuring local and celebrity chefs and tastings. Sponsored by Safeway. Benefits the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs. Adults, $8; under 12, $4; under 5, free. Saturday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Pennsylvania Avenue NW between Ninth and 14th streets. Call 202-828-3099 or see www.bbqusa.us.

JUNE 29: Vina Almaviva wine dinner at Cafe Atlantico. $75 includes tax and tip. 7 p.m. 405 Eighth St. NW. Call 202-393-0812.

PLEASE NOTE: Space limitations sometimes prevent Food from publishing all submissions. For possible inclusion, send notices -- including organization name, date, cost, time, address and phone number -- to: To Do, Food, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071 or food@washpost.com. Submissions must be received at least 14 days prior to publication date.