Thanksgiving is practically here. Whether you've been cooking for a week or you haven't quite decided what to serve, chances are, for a regular evening's meal, you want something besides the traditional Thanksgiving fare.

So today's offering, part of my "foods to be thankful for" series, is a hearty bean stew with the spicy flavors of hot Italian sausage and piquant fennel. Simple to make, yet immensely complex in flavor, this warm dinner takes only 30 minutes to stir together. You can simmer for up to 30 more minutes, but it's not necessary other than to provide serving flexibility.

For our vegetarian friends, using vegetable stock and omitting the sausage still yields a wonderful stew that will warm and satisfy you.

NOTE: Next week is the last week of my "foods to be thankful for" series. I'll wrap it up with a wonderful recipe that will not only delight your family and friends, but also can be used for gifts or entertaining. In the meantime, check out www.kitchenscoop.com for more favorite recipes every day.

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 6

Ingredients

1 pound spicy Italian sausage

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 large fennel bulb, coarsely chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

32 ounces low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth

2 cans (15 ounces each) white kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 can petite diced tomatoes with garlic and Italian herbs

10 ounces frozen spinach leaves, thawed and drained well

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

In a large soup pot, cut up and brown the sausage over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel and garlic, and continue until sausage is crumbled and cooked through, about seven minutes total. Add broth, beans, tomatoes (with juices) and spinach, and stir well to mix. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer from 15 minutes or up to 45 minutes until ready to serve. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Approximate values per serving: 343 calories (32 percent from fat), 12g fat (4g saturated), 22mg cholesterol, 22g protein, 38g carbohydrates, 11g dietary fiber, 1,078mg sodium.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to tellus@kitchenscoop.com. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at www.kitchenscoop.com.