Gifts for the Passionate Cook

Six Extravagant Ingredients, Each Paired with a Simple Recipe that Shows it Off

The key to wrapping these sumptuous ingredients: juxtapose elegant textures with earthy ones. Pair velvet with twine, for example, or a white linen napkin with a cellophane bag. Then add beautiful custom-made gift cards.

The very best morels are from France. They come in small to medium sizes and have a strong, smoky aroma and taste. price: About $12 an ounce. Wrapping: Washed velvet and twine.

Almost all authentic aged (12 years or more) balsamic vinegar sold in the United States is from Modena, Italy. The finest is labeled both DOC and aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena. price: $80 to $120 for a 100-milliliter bottle. There are many richly flavored aged balsamic vinegars available at lower prices. Wrapping: Hand-made Japanese and French papers and satin ribbon.

This oil comes in small bottles because a little of its very strong truffle flavor goes a long way. It should taste pleasantly pungent and clean. Buy the freshest oil in the fall and early winter. price: About $13 for a two-ounce bottle. Wrapping: Washed linen and bright satin ribbon.

Look for premium Spanish saffron in glass tubes or clear plastic containers. It should consist chiefly of red threads, the most flavorful stigmas of the saffron crocus (a few yellow threads are okay). price: About $6 for 11/2 grams. Wrapping: Moroccan bowl, kitchen towel and twine.

For top-quality chocolate, turn to brands imported from Belgium, France and Switzerland. price: About $10 a pound. Wrapping: A cellophane bag tied with red string in a white dinner napkin.

Choose beans that are plump, moist and fragrant, not dried and brittle. Beans from Madagascar (thought by many to be the best) and Mexico have a rich vanilla taste. Tahitian beans have a lighter, distinctly sweet, floral flavor. price: About $5 for two beans. Wrapping: Japanese lacquer box with gold metallic fabric.

PUBLISHED December 1997