Oline Cogdill
Before my close friend Doreen and her family went to Europe last year, I wished them a very happy, safe trip and asked them to send me a postcard or two.

Since her trip had a stop in Venice, I added some weight to her luggage. I also gave her several copies of Donna Leon’s lovely novels about Venice’s Commissario Guido Brunetti to get her in the vacation mood – as if she had to be prompted for that – and a copy of the tour guide Brunetti’s Venice, written by Toni Sepeda, a professor of literature and art history in Northern Italy who for years has conducted tours of Venetian sites visited by Leon’s hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Brunetti’s Venice (Grove Press, $16.95). features description and history of the actual place mentioned in excerpts from Leon’s novels.

This year, I would probably give Doreen, who is an excellent cook, a copy of Brunetti’s Cookbook featuring recipes by Roberta Pianaro and culinary stories by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95). Her birthday is coming up.

Brunetti’s Cookbook is more than a lovely cookbook filled with more than 90 Italian recipes and whimsical color illustrations. It also is a tour of Venice, with Leon’s original essays on food and life in Venice.

Leon talks about sumptuous meals with family and friends, about fish stalls, wine shops, and restaurants, including one that was briefly Chinese.

But she also talks about how fast food has invaded. “…when you come out of Il Fornaio with your fresh-baked bread, you are greeted by the smell coming from McDonald’s.” There also are excerpts from Leon’s novels that fit certain recipes.

Recipes are concise and easy to understand with clear instructions. No nutritional information is included, but these are clearly made for those who love to eat and want to put calorie counting on hold. (Hey, you think I only review mysteries? I also have reviewed cookbooks for more than 20 years.)

While the recipes are easy to follow, most are not quick dishes. But patience is clearly rewarded.

Fusilli With Green Olives is a lovely, savory side dish as is Penne Rigate With Beans and Bacon, which comes together with a minimum of time. Chicken Breast With Artichokes is an elegant dish. Almond Cake makes a sweet ending.

On second thought, I am keeping this cookbook. Doreen needs another pair of earrings for her birthday.