If an all-rice cookbook would be categorized in the trade as specialized, 250 pages of risotto variations--all from the same master recipe-might seem to border on the obsessive. But if pasta rates its dozens of cookbooks, food-writer Barrett of The Boston Globe and gourmet-shopowner Wasserman of Boston's Formaggio kitchen demonstrate that this Arborio rice preparation from Northern Italy is a worthy rival. The dish's disadvantage is the attention required for last-minute pouring and stirring (Julia Child was wrong when she said risotto was just the Italian name for pilaf, which essentially takes care of itself)-- but the authors note that time can be cut in half with a new pressure-cooker method. Granted, too, that not everyone will rash out to get started on the black risotto with squid ink--but again the authors assure us, per Italian food writer Guiseppe Mazzaotti, that suspicious novices are invariably conquered by this dish's rare flavor, ""alarming as it is to the eye."" And the less adventuresome can choose from an amazing range of ""condimenti,"" from truffles, radiccio, pesto, or baccala to pumpkin, rabbit, orange juice, or strawberries. Whatever the challenge, the rewards are commensurate. Call this very special, in both senses of the word.