MICHAEL CHIARELLO'S CASUAL COOKING

Michael Chiarello, Author . Chronicle $35 (224p) ISBN 0-8118-3383-6

Chiarello is founder of the Napa Valley restaurant Tra Vigne, and his recipes combine his Italian heritage (from Calabria, the toe of Italy's boot) with local produce to mixed results. Some innovations are wonderful: Warm Peach and Prosciutto Salad is a great variation on traditional prosciutto with melon, and the flavors of succulent peaches and salty prosciutto marry so well it's a wonder no one's come up with the combination before. His four seasonal takes on panzanella—a traditional tomato bread salad for summer, Autumn Panzanella with mushrooms, Winter Panzanella with squash and brussels sprouts, and Spring Panzanella with asparagus and peas—also stand out. Occasionally, Chiarello gets whimsical with titles, as with Green Eggs and Ham, a rustic dish of prosciutto, poached eggs and basil oil on toast. Sometimes, though, he goes just a bit overboard with the food itself, as with Brodetto di Mare seafood stew served over risotto, which sounds like a runny combination, and Baby Back Ribs with Espresso BBQ Sauce. Photography and layout are beautiful, making this book as much a pleasure to page through as it is to cook from, and the more appealing fare, such as a Spring Pea Soup with a confetti spray of chive flowers and Radicchio Slaw with Warm Honey Dressing, makes up for the occasional odd duck. (Sept.)

Forecast:These are the kind of contemporary, Italian-influenced flavors Americans can never seem to get enough of. The association with Chiarello's two PBS series, Michael Chiarello's Napa and Season by Season, will only supplement healthy sales.

Reviewed on: 07/01/2002
Release date: 07/01/2002
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