Italian cookbooks the novice

Although there are many fine cookbooks that could be listed for the beginner in Italian cooking, the following selection was chosen because it contains titles that are newly published this year. The new, revised, updated edition of Italian Food, by Elizabeth David (Harper & Row, $27.50), makes her classic collection of more than 400 authentic Italian regional dishes available to a new group of cooks and lovers of good food. Ms. David, one of the most respected food writers in England, wrote the original edition of this book that inspired a whole generation of cooks and cookbook writers when it was first printed in 1950.

Gorgeous color illustrations show details of Italian paintings through the ages that reflect the importance food and wine have played in Italian life and bring alive the atmosphere of Italy itself. The range of Italian ingredients now available makes it easier than ever to create these dishes, and the introductions contain a wonderful evocation of the country's history, its spectacular markets, and its inhabitants.

Simonetta Lupi Vada believes lessons in history and geography help to understand Italian cooking. Her book The Flavors of Italy (HP Books, $17.95) gives a tour of 10 of Italy's regions, each with its own distinctive cuisine, from the distinctive polenta in the north to the southern dishes generous with olive oil and fresh herbs. There are beautiful photographs of the various regions and equally attractive pictures of the dishes. Mrs. Vada writes a cooking and nutrition column for the Italian magazine Benissimo and is a food consultant.

Some of the most beautiful restaurants in the world are pictured in The Gourmet's Tour of Italy: 30 Great Italian Restaurants and their Favorite Recipes by Antonio Piccinardi and James M. Johnson (Little, Brown & Co., $29.95). This handsome collection of behind-the-scenes views takes readers from Rome and Milan to the smaller villages of Italy. A brief essay about each restaurant includes anecdotes and details about its special character.

Each chef gives recipes of his specialties and each dish is plainly pictured, while large color photographs show the ambiance and atmosphere of the establishments themselves.

In A Taste of Italy (Little, Brown & Co., $24.95), author Antonio Carluccio, a chef and restaurateur who grew up in Northern Italy, adds personal anecdotes to recipes for his regional specialties such as Duck With Mango and Guinea Fowl With Pomegranate, to which he adds his own creative touch. He also includes such traditional favorites as stuffed veal pockets, gnocchi, and pizza.

Starting with fundamentals, the book includes basic techniques and more than 300 recipes with colorful illustrations.

Pasta Classica, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, $25), is a beautiful book, a definitive and lively manual for authentic pasta cooking that treats pasta as an art. Included are paintings, drawings, and prints from the 18th century, as well as a delightful sprinkling of poetry, folklore, and legends - all extolling the glory of pasta.

The Foods of Southern Italy, by Carlo Middione (William Morrow, $25). With all the attention given to Northern Italian cuisine by trendy Americans, Carlo Middione's book evens out the balance. Hospitality and sharing are a large part of the book - as they are in Middione's San Francisco restaurant, where eating is like being a guest in a large, friendly kitchen. The cookbook succeeds in showing the wide range of distinct southern regional dishes and tells how to make them with uncomplicated recipes. The dishes range from Fiery Macaroni and Neopolitan Lasagne to Polenta and Clams as it's made in the coastal areas of Abruzzo, Codfish Salad With Cauliflower from Calabria, and Cassata, a cake from Sicilia whose recipe dates back to the Arab occupation.

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