Recent cookbook releases -- Sada Fretz reviews some of the best and worst recipes to add to your collection

Recent cookbook releases

The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, Revised
Giuliano Bugialli (Times Books, $25.95)

Since its initial publication in 1977, this first work by Bugialli has been high on any serious short list of Italian cookbooks. Now the master has added some 30 recipes and supplied more historical information. The new edition also allows for the wider availability of Italian ingredients and for contemporary caution about rich sauces. But that entails no compromise, as Bugialli’s purview is the traditional cooking of his native Tuscany, specifically Florence — la buona, sana cucina that he says was already lightening its dishes in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Preparing an authentic Tuscan meal from Bugialli can mean simply sousing spaghetti with olive oil and bread crumbs (of course the crumbs must be from a good Tuscan loaf); or it can involve an elaborate dinner of ravioli nudi (”nude” because not covered with sauce), boned whole stuffed chicken (”requires much preparation time and skill well worth the trouble”), beans cooked in a glass fiasco, or flask (”one of the scenic Florentine dishes”), and an ”ambitious” rice custard dessert. But there is also an inspiring abundance of uncomplicated country meals, including a four-dish dinner easily accomplished on a weekday evening in New Jersey. A+

The Pillsbury Bake-Off Cookbook
(Doubleday, $18.95)

What do ”crafty lasagne,” ”quick baklava,” ”magic marshmallow puffs,” ”chicken and cheese chimichangas,” and ”Oriental egg rolls” filled with plum-and- tapioca baby food have in common? If you answer that they can all be made with Pillsbury’s refrigerated crescent rolls, you may be Bake-Off material. On the other hand, if you win Pillsbury’s annual baking contest with a creation made from scratch, chances are the bake-off folks will ”update” your entry, as they have those of several finalists included here, using ”time saving convenience products,” all of them conveniently available from the kitchens of Pillsbury.

And why not? Why should Rockwood mint wafers disappear from grocery sh shes just because a dessert using them won the Bake-Off? Why shouldn’t such windfalls go to Pillsbury’s own cake mixes, pie crusts, and ready-to-spread frostings? And why shouldn’t the Pillsbury folks have everything both ways: promoting the commercial quick fixes they produce and celebrating their 40-year-old contest as ”a cherished vignette of Americana” at the same time? Maybe because the dumbed-down regional dishes featured here have no local accents; they have all been processed in the zone of the 800 area code. D