Cookbooks -- Short reviews on recently released titles

The Savory Way Deborah Madison

As founding chef at Greens, San Francisco’s snazzy vegetarian restaurant, and as author of the imaginative The Greens Cookbook, Deborah Madison has wowed committed carnivores who once thought vegetarian cuisine was all brown rice and self-denial. Now Madison has moved to Arizona and learned, she says, to cook as most Americans must: with limited time and only supermarket groceries.

Her new meatless cookbook calls for dried Italian pasta instead of homemade and is crammed with recipes for quick snacks, sandwiches, spreads, main-dish salads, and ”morning foods (like omelets) for day and night.” But the food and the ideas are no less fresh. Madison can bring verve and flavor to conventional health food or to ired standbys: Even millet takes on oomph when it’s enhanced with saffron-flavored roasted peppers. Grilled cheese sandwiches achieve subtlety with her fragrant cumin spread — or zing with pureed chipotle chilies, tomatillos, and cilantro. With the perils of our meat-based diets prominently in the news again, the alternative couldn’t look more attractive. A

Cucina Rustica Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman

In the overcrowded field of irresistible Italian cookbooks, Los Angeles cooking teacher La Place and chef Kleiman have carved out a niche with food that is fresh, fast, stylish, and, as they have described it, ”vivid.” Their new collection offers the same smart balance of time and taste; still more dashing, vibrantly colored pasta dishes and risottos; a summer’s worth of grilled and marinated chicken, fish, and vegetables; and, in all, a collection of brisk ideas with the power to perk up stale cooks. A-

Recipes From an Italian Farmhouse Valentina Harris; foreword by Giuliano Bugialli

Here is one more collection of rustic Italian recipes too appealing to pass up. First, Linda Burgess draws the reader in with her low-key photos of simple, sustaining peasant fare displayed in fields and markets and at al fresco feasts. Then Tuscan-bred Valentina Harris shares her memories and notes on vanished and surviving foodways. Among the recipes, the simple sweets and vegetable dishes are especially accessible and enticing. But for venturesome eating, or just for resonant reading, there are more exotic traditions: a Sicilian stew of calf’s head, which you might have trouble finding in your market; a frittata rich in chopped truffles, which are plentiful in Umbria; an ancient vegetable-and-sausage-topped polenta that you pour directly onto your table, then attack communally with forks. You might want to take some of Harris’ history with a grain of salt: She claims her Apulian arugula and potato soup dates back 2,500 years, although potatoes were unknown in Italy before Columbus. But the soup tastes good even if it’s only a few hundred years old; no doubt the calf’s head does too. B+

Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet Claire Joyes; photos by Jean-Bernard Naudin

The recipes in this anomalous coffee-table book aren’t really meant for the kitchen. They’ve been adapted nicely by chef Joël Robuchon from journals kept at Giverney, and they represent what Robuchon calls the ”bourgeois and tasty cuisine” the artist enjoyed during his 43 years there. But our interest in the recipes lies in their association with Monet and his world.

The text by Claire Joyes, who lives at Monet’s restored estate at Giverny, describes in amateurish prose how the household’s dining arrangements were dictated by Monet’s attention to ingredients and menus as well as his need to be up, out, and painting when the light was right.

What does the book add up to? Maybe a Monet dinner for the local art center or gourmet club. Maybe a hostess gift for a summer weekend. Maybe not. C