De'Medici, descended from a Pope who died of gluttony, comes by her passion for food quite honestly. After 20 books, this Piedmontese cooking teacher focuses on ``the contemporary evolution of the cucina alto-borghese'' (upper-class cuisine) and questions how aristocrats are making do in the kitchen since they can ``no longer afford . . . domestic help.'' Although she provides no answers, we are seduced with nostalgic memories and glorious photographs, witnesses to a luxurious, vanishing life. Voyeurs at de'Medici's ancestral home, at her husband's family estate, and at her friends' palazzi, castelli and villas in 12 regions of Italy, we gaze at sumptuous silver, frescoed drawing rooms and glassed-in cloisters. And always there is magnificently styled food: pecorino and lamb soup, quail on toast with polenta, and fresh fig and lemon tart. Menus, however, are balanced peculiarly, and it's hard to believe that hosts could throw together pig's liver skewers and homemade ice cream for ``unexpected guests.'' Moreover, ``I steadfastly refuse to be pinned down to exact measurements . . . and precise instructions,'' the author writes. Better Homes and Gardens Book Club selection; author tour. (Nov.)
The author of the popular Italy the Beautiful (Knapp Pr., 1988) now turns to the contemporary cucina alto-borghese , the cuisine of Italy's upper classes, and the result is a glimpse at how the other half lives. Recipes are organized by region and by occasion, from wedding receptions in the castle of a count and countess in Piemonte to a Lucullian banquet in a princess's palace in Lazio. Medici is certainly knowledgeable about food, but the recipes don't seem to be the focal point of this lavishly illustrated volume; this is more like reading Town & Country . Optional.