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For the Kitchen Bookshelf : Cookbooks. Big books, little books, showy cocktail table books . . . all arrive in time for holiday shopping each year. The Times' Food staff took a look at some of this year's offerings, many of which will make excellent gift choices for last-minute shoppers. Here's a rundown on some we found interesting.

December 21, 1986|Joan Drake

Marcella's Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan (Knopf: $22.95, 331 pp., illustrated).

Marcella's latest book focuses on Italian home cooking. The author describes it as "spontaneous, pithy, spirited, direct."

The recipes are intended to reflect today's trend toward lightness and freshness. Although the author first cooked most of the dishes in her Venice and Bologna kitchens, all were tested later in New York, using American ingredients. Some make use of radicchio , sweet yellow peppers, fresh porcini mushrooms and white truffles--outstanding Italian ingredients that are now much more available in this country.

"The fish, chicken, and veal dishes are the most varied and, I think, among the most flavorful I have ever done," Hazan says. There is also a strong emphasis on soups, pastas, risotti and unusual vegetable combinations.

Beginning chapters on elementary rules, information on ingredients, cooking, preparation and tools should not be overlooked. They not only provide valuable information, but also include some humorous vignettes by the author.

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