Rebecca Kai Dotlich, . . Wiley, $29.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-471-27251-9

DeMane (Pasta Improvvisata ) hones her flavor-combining philosophy and skills in this volume that successfully—and wonderfully—improvises on traditional recipes of southern Italian cuisine. She bases her dishes on the cooking of her grandmother, who emigrated from a town on the Campania-Apulia border; from there, DeMane has adapted her recipes according to ingredients available in the U.S. (mostly New York); the busy lifestyle of today's home cooks; and, finally, her own personal taste. DeMane's adaptations are subtle, but their effect is powerful. For example, she eschews sausage for prosciutto in Orecchette with Broccoli Rabe, Prosciutto, and White Wine. For main courses, she brings to the table Braised Sausages with Green Grapes, Wine and Bay Leaves; Pork Chops with Gentle Vinegar Peppers (into which she mixes anchovy fillets and marjoram); and Grouper Wrapped in Prosciutto and Served with a Winter Tomato Sauce (made with Marsala wine, sage and rosemary). Her salads are standouts (many, she maintains, can be a full dinner): Strawberry and Wild Watercress Salad with Pine Nuts; and Spinach Salad with Pears, Spiced Walnuts, and Ricotta Salata. Equally simple though enticing are DeMane's antipasti (e.g., Sautéed Cerignolo Olives with Fennel and Mint) and contorni, such as Potato and Sweet Pepper Gatto, Calabrian Style (made with vermouth, pecorino and caciocavallo cheeses). While lacking essential photos and illustrations, DeMane's clear and easy narrative and her abundance of flavorful recipes make this a valuable collection. (May)