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Country gardens are cookbooks' theme


Another promising series of cookbooks was launched a month ago by Collins Publishers San Francisco, the same folks who have regaled us with the highly acclaimed Beautiful Cookbook series over the past half-dozen years or so.

The Country Garden Cookbook series continues the publisher's penchant for bringing together top authors, outstanding recipes and superb color photo illustrations. It began with two single-theme volumes, "Greens," by Sibella Kraus (Collins, $19.95) and "Lemons," by Christopher Idone (Collins, $19.95).

Collins will introduce in August a second Idone-authored book in the series, "Apples," as well as "Potatoes," by Maggie Waldron. Around the corner for 1994 are "Tomatoes" and "Berries." The price will continue at $19.95.

In an age when illustrated cookbooks regularly top $30, and many are even higher -- the Beautiful Cookbook series for years has held the line at $45 -- a quality book at under 20 bucks is welcome, indeed. Admittedly, the Country Gardens are not nearly on the same scale as the Beautifuls, which serve up some 200 illustrated recipes vs. the 40 in each book of the new lineup.

Nevertheless, price is of considerable import, and that's not all that's attractive about this series. Quality writing and recipes, by Mr. Idone and Ms. Kraus, and the photography, by Deborah Jones in "Greens" and Kathryn Kleinman in "Lemons," are all to be commended.

Mr. Idone, as you may remember, is the best-selling author of several cookbooks, including his first, "Glorious Food" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1982). He says he recalls first being struck by the beauty and fragrance of lemons during a trip to Italy in the '50s; then he began noticing them everywhere he went. Today he finds them "delightfully versatile."

He opens "Lemons" with a tapenade in lemon shells and a lemon soup with a touch of Mexico. I puckered up just reading his recipe for lemon sandwiches -- slices of lemon on buttered wheat bread -- but he got me back with his bay scallops with lemon and orange and a salad of zucchini marinated with lemon and mint.

Among his main dishes are a delightful sauteed chicken paillard with lemon, and a pan-seared sal- mon with lemon cilantro pesto. Mr. Idone finishes up with lemon ice cream (of course) and nearly a dozen lemon-based beverages.

Ms. Kraus lives and breathes greens, "one of the great pleasures of today's kitchen." As a cook and a writer, she is a nationally recognized authority on fresh produce. Consequently, "Greens" contains no recipes with meat, poultry or fish save for a Belgian endive with herbed creme fraiche and smoked salmon, and a suggestion for chicken soup.

Her specialties include Greek spinach pie, which is a Greek-style hors d'oeuvre; a tomato and arugula salad and the traditional favorite, Caesar salad; a sorrel, leek and mushroom tart and an escarole pizza. Sorry: no desserts.

It's easy sailing for even the novice cook in both "Lemons" and "Greens." However, 40 recipes in each may not be enough to hold the experienced cook's interest, despite the quality of the -- presentation.

* From "Greens" comes this traditional Italian omelet that can be served for brunch, lunch or supper. If you plan for 12 servings out of this recipe, there better be something additional on the plate to fill the tummy.

Frittata with chard

and roasted red peppers

Makes 4 to 12 servings

1 bunch chard

1 large leek, chopped (approximately 1 cup)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 teaspoon minced fresh marjoram

1 teaspoon salt

2 large roasted red peppers (to yield 1/2 cup)

6 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated fontina cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wash the chard, remove the stalks, and dry the leaves. Stack the chard and cut crosswise into ribbons. In a large pan, saute the leek in the oil and butter over medium heat until soft. Add the chard, herbs and salt and saute for approximately 7 minutes until the chard is well cooked. Remove from the heat, stir in the peppers and cool.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and add the bread crumbs and cheeses. Stir in the chard mixture. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Bake in a buttered 9-inch-by-9-inch pan for approximately 40 minutes, or until the center is firm and the crust is golden. If you are planning to cut the frittata into hors d'oeuvre-sized pieces, bake it in a 9-inch-by-12-inch pan and decrease the cooking time by 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

"No peeling, no fuss," says Mr. Idone of this recipe in "Lemons." He says this is an "easy pasta supper." I agree, and a tasty one. Pappardelle is a wide pasta, often with fluted edges, although it is not pictured this way in "Lemons."

Pappardelle with lemon

and asparagus

Makes 4 to 5 servings

1 pound pencil-thin asparagus, approximately 32 asparagus

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

1 pound fresh or dried pappardelle

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

freshly ground black pepper to taste

zest of 1 lemon, cut into julienne

grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Cutting on the diagonal, trim the tough ends of the asparagus. Cut the asparagus into 3 or 4 even pieces on the diagonal. In a non-reactive kettle of lightly salted boiling water, cook the asparagus for 2 minutes or until just crisp. Blanch in cold water and drain.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cream. Allow to cook at a low simmer.

Cook the pappardelle in the kettle of salted boiling water until al dente and drain well. While the pasta is boiling, heat the oil in a large skillet and add the asparagus. Add the hot cream mixture and fold in the lemon juice. Season with pepper.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss well. Divide among 4 or 5 warm soup plates and sprinkle with julienned zest. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

) Universal Press Syndicate

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