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Cookbooks to feed foodies' reading habits

FOR HOLIDAY gifting or just your own tasty reading, here are some recommended cookbooks from this year's crop, starting on a locavore note with one of our own.

FOR HOLIDAY gifting or just your own tasty reading, here are some recommended cookbooks from this year's crop, starting on a locavore note with one of our own.

* When Mario Batali (who wrote the foreword) first ate at Marc Vetri's eponymous Philadelphia restaurant in 1998, he thought it "the best meal of true Italian deliciousness . . . I had ever had outside of the boot." Vetri's new Rustic Italian Food, with David Joachim (Ten Speed, $35) offers a master class in bread, pizza, pasta, salumi preserves, meats, fish, vegetables and desserts.

All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art (Norton, $35). If you have an oven, you need Molly Stevens' book - 200 splendid recipes for meat, poultry, fish and vegetables that are more about the "why" than the "how to." Stevens wrote 2004's award-winning All About Braising, and this new volume is equally essential.

Dolci: Italy's Sweets (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35) is Francine Segan's collection of recipes from home cooks, professional chefs, cooking teachers and fine bakeries, refined for the American kitchen. How could you go wrong with hazelnut-chocolate kisses, almond granita and sweet rosemary-grape focaccia?

Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg (Camino Books, $24.95) preserves a vanishing craft. It's geared to serious bakers, with recipes that can be lengthy and complex (though always clear). But even nonbakers will enjoy the history and baker's lore.

* The pomegranate-seed-garnished eggplant pictured on the cover of Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi (Chronicle, $35) clues to what's inside. He writes a vegetarian column for London's Guardian newspaper (from which these 120 recipes were drawn), and there's no vegetable he can't turn into something unexpected and wonderful.

Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch (Ten Speed, $40) is a gorgeous book that grew, almost literally, out of the small back-yard garden planted about 10 years ago by Nigel Slater, the British food writer. Slater explores 29 vegetables - through prose and more than 400 recipes. Jonathan Lovekin shot the extraordinarily photographs.

* With her punk hair and boisterous bravado (which translates, in print, to much CAPITALIZATION and exclamation points!), Anne Burrell isn't the likeliest guide to Italian cooking. But the Food Network star (and former sous chef to Batali) has written, with Suzanne Lenzer, the imaginative, practical and thoroughly engaging Cook Like a Rock Star: 125 Recipes, Lessons and Culinary Secrets (Potter, $27.99).

* Jennifer Reese's acerbic drollery recalls Peg Bracken's I Hate to Cook Book, except that Reese clearly loves to cook. Her Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (Free Press, $24) purports to advise, as the subtitle says, "what you should and shouldn't cook from scratch." Reese makes things - marshmallows, mustard - that many would rather buy. But the book succeeds with its clever prose and more than 120 compelling recipes.

* Ed Behr's The Art of Eating Cookbook: Essential Recipes from the First 25 Years (University of California Press, $39.95) is modest, charming and, happily, more approachable than the magazine from which it is derived.

* On May 23, 2005, Mary Kate Tate and Nate Tate, sister and brother, embarked on a 9,700-mile restaurant odyssey, largely on bicycles, through much of China. The result was first a website and now Feeding the Dragon: A Culinary Travelogue Through China With Recipes (Andrews McMeel, $24.99).