There seems to be a war going on among the authors of Italian cooking books of the last few years -- a contest to see who can produce recipes more authentic, more regional and handed down from the most loving grandmother. It's turning into a "my nonna was a better cook than your nonna" syndrome. And the text accompanying the recipes for these hearty, rustic and homey dishes makes it sound as though, if at one time Italy was peopled by brilliant poets and artists, it is now inhabited entirely by peasants. If this doesn't begin to irritate you, there are several new books worth a look.
Making a case for the ancient population is Lorenza De' Medici, whose new beautiful book "The Heritage of Italian Cooking" (Random House, $40) displays solid, classic cooking in an art book format. It's ground that De' Medici has covered before and in the array of baked fishes, stuffed meat rolls, soups and dumplings there's not much that's new, but it's good food. The recipes could use a little updating where the author neglects to provide servings sizes for the dishes; the original recipe may not have had them, but they make it easier to plan a modern meal.
Another good bet is "The Good Food of Italy -- Region By Region" by Claudia Roden (Knopf, $24.95), who has tackled Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines in previous books. There is a nice introduction to each region and the recipes are straightforward and simple, as in all of these books. The pumpkin soup was disappointing, but the Trout with Green Sauce was fresh and lively.
The last entry is from Lidia Bastianich who has made a name for herself with her restaurant in New York, and now wants to introduce Istrian cuisine, a combination of Italian, Yugoslavian and Germanic cultures, to a new audience. In "La Cucina di Lidia" (Doubleday, $24.95), the flavor of the recipes is predominantly Italian, and standouts among them are a rich Tagliatelle with Leek and Sausage Sauce, and moist and smoky Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Orange.