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Peaches and pigs come together in a love medley

The joy of a cooking magazine is more than recipes; it's the lovely photos, travel writing, and accompanying food banter - the pleasure of dreaming about cooking and eating as much as actually doing it. As a reader, I'm not so interested in attending the Gotrocks of Connecticut's clam bake, but I will tag along enthusiastically as a food writer samples mian noodles from the bamboo pannier of a dan dan monger in Chengdu, China, a place I may never visit.

While there's no getting around the sumptuous photos of good living that fill its pages, Gourmet Magazine - despite the elegant curve of the G, which suggests pearls, Oriental rugs, and hearth dogs - never tarries too long in the Gotrocks' dining room, preferring instead to be out and about, exploring the world and the trends of American eating. It featured stories about organic food when we eschewed pesticides, but lately its editors are showing an interest in eating locally grown vegetables and fruit, USDA organic symbol be damned.

So it stands to reason that The Best of Gourmet: A year of celebrations, the magazine's yearly compendium, balances the exotic and adventurous with the every day simple but good, providing resources and pragmatic substitutes for the more rarefied ingredients, and plenty of feedback on what they've tried in their test kitchens. (For example, use leftover lechee syrup to sweeten ice tea, and chocolate with more than 60 percent cacao will make bitter hot chocolate.)

True to its title, the book offers nine celebration menus - from a kid's birthday party to a New Orleans Christmas party - as well as a collection of menus with wine pairings, as might be found in the magazine, and a chapter of single recipes. I paired a Peach and Arugula Salad, borrowed from Father's Day Tuscan Dinner, with Poached Chicken with Tomatoes, Olives, and Green Beans taken from A Breezy Summer Dinner.

The poached chicken was as simple as it sounds, an aesthetically pleasing plate of green beans and chicken strips boiled in a thyme-infused chicken broth, then piled high with a salsa of homegrown tomatoes and oregano, and green olives. It was fresh, the briney salt of the olives balanced by the bright tomatoes, but overall nothing to write home about.

The Best of Gourmet:
A year of celebrations

By the editors of Gourmet
Random House
$40, 304 pages
ISBN: 1400063647

The peaches, on the other hand, were worthy of a singing telegram. Peeled, sectioned, and wrapped in thin slices of pancetta, they were fried to crispy in olive oil and tossed with arugula, crumbly ricotta salata, and a dressing of balsamic vinegar, lemon, and olive oil. The pancetta held the peach slices together on the plate, but the packets exploded in our mouths, a fabulous quartet of soft, crisp, sweet, and salty, with unnecessary but lovely pepper-and-cream harmonies provided by the arugula and ricotta. For dessert, cantaloupe curls with spiced wine. The burgundy sauce was pretty on the melon, but its subtle flavors were lost. Better to spoon it over vanilla ice cream, where the subtle aromatic bay leaf and pungent mustard seeds can be appreciated.

In the end, it's the recipes that give a magazine a long shelf life. No clipper, I'll clutter the coffee table for months just to keep that great chickpea and chorizo soup recipe on page 68 at arms length, which is why The Best of Gourmet is a welcome addition to the kitchen bookshelf.

By Susan Pagani

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