River Café Kitchen
River Café Restaurant
From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...The River Café in London was founded in 1987 by Ruth Rogers and her partner Rose Gray. The café was originally opened to feed employees of Rogers' husband, the architect Lord Richard Rogers, following the move of his company to a Thames Wharf complex where there were no restaurants in which to eat. Despite an age difference, the women had common political interests and moved in the same social circles, so, during the 1970's, they quite easily moved from nodding acquaintance to friendship. They also shared a love of food and their collaboration led to the creation of a Michelin star restaurant and six best selling cookbooks that can all be found here. In the process, their emphasis on fresh and seasonal ingredients changed the way London ate and brought the flavors of authentic Italian home cooking to a city that had been buried in steam table noodles and red sauce. While neither woman was a trained chef, they shared cooking responsibilities in the restaurant kitchen and they are credited with training young men and women who went on to become some of Britain's finest chefs. Both Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall apprenticed in their kitchen, as did April Bloomfield who is now co-owner of the Spotted Pig in New York City. Despite their native talent, much of the early success accorded to the River Café can be attributed to their stellar social connections and the left-wing glitterati that graced their tables when the restaurant first opened. The women, who both loved Italian food, set high standards for their kitchen and liked to think of their restaurant as another region of Italy. Rogers, who believes that discipline gives you freedom, learned to cook as a student, using Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as her text. That influence, with its insistence on precision and detail, can be seen in the River Café cookbooks. Like her partner, Rose Gray was self-taught as a chef. She was the maternal presence and influence at the restaurant and her children still work there. Prior to Rose's death in 2010, both women traveled often and extensively throughout Italy, searching for ideas, techniques and recipes that could be used in the restaurant kitchen. Some say the restaurant is in decline. I can't speak to that, but I can tell you it has held on to its Michelin star and has, by any measure, had a great run. Rogers and Gray are in position 26 on the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in food.
The sheer number of recipes that have been developed by these women made it really difficult to select one that represents their body of work. Their most famous recipe is a flourless cake called the Chocolate Nemesis. The cake is not difficult to make but it is fickle and has developed a reputation for see-saw results that can be less than stellar in appearance. I decided to take a pass. Cowardly, I'll admit, but coming off the holiday I'm not up to high drama this week. My final choice was one of their simpler recipes, a classic pasta that's dressed with little other than lemon, olive oil and cheese. I've not had good luck with other versions of this recipe. I've found the lemon flavor to be quite harsh and not at all to my liking. I'm glad I stepped once more into the fray. Their version of the recipe, which comes from Genoa, Italy, is quite pleasant. The only trick is to use smaller lemons and no more than 1/2 cup juice. The lemon zest can carry the flavor burden in the pasta. The spaghetti makes a wonderful light supper, but it is also a natural to serve with chicken Parmesan or Sicilian sausage. Here's the recipe.
juice of 3 to 4 lemons, the freshest possible
optional: the zest (the grated, colored part of the peel) of some of those lemons
2/3 cup, olive oil
1-1/2 cups, Parmesan cheese - freshly grated (Parmigiano-Reggiano if possible)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 handfuls fresh basil leaves - chopped
1) In a generous amount of boiling salted water, cook the spaghetti just until al dente, then drain it thoroughly and return it to the hot (empty) pan.
2) Meanwhile, beat the lemon juice with the olive oil, then stir in the Parmesan until the mixture is thick and creamy. The Parmesan will melt into the mixture. Season, and add more lemon juice to taste.
3) Add the sauce to the hot, drained spaghetti and toss gently or shake the pan so that each strand is coated with the cheese. Finally, stir in the chopped basil and, ideally, some grated lemon zest. Yield: 6 servings
Cooks Note: I used 16-oz. of spaghetti rather than the 9-oz. called for in the recipe. I used 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice and 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest in the sauce which was seasoned with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. I measured 2 loosely packed cups of basil prior to cutting. Additional cheese and red pepper flakes were passed at the table.
The following bloggers are also featuring the recipes of Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray today. I hope you'll visit all of them. They are great cooks who have wonderful blogs.
Val - More Than Burnt Toast, Joanne - Eats Well With Others, Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed Susan - The Spice Garden, Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney, Jeanette - Healthy Living, April - Abby Sweets
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud, Mary - One Perfect Bite, Kathleen - Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen, Sue - The View from Great Island, Barbara - Movable Feasts Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds, Amy - Beloved Green, Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Linda A - There and Back Again, Martha - Lines from Linderhof, Nancy - Picadillo
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits, Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Annie - Most Lovely Things, Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook
Next week we will highlight the career and recipes of Anne Willan. It will be really interesting to see what everyone comes up with. If you'd like to join us please email me for additional information no later than Monday, December 5th.