Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Italy By Way Of London

I own an embarrassingly large number of cookbooks, but like many things, I have a few favorites that I find myself reaching for time after time...my desert island cookbooks if you will. This is a series of posts that will describe these books that make up my core collection. I hope that you find them and the recipes they contain as enjoyable and useful as I do.

The River Cafe was opened in London in 1987, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.

These two women had both spent considerable time living (and presumably cooking) in Tuscany, so the restaurant was centered around their interpretation of Italian farmhouse cooking. Sort of a precursor to Mario Batali I suppose.

They were one of the earlier adopters of the seasonal, top-quality ingredient philosophy, and given the continued prominence of the restaurant, not only in London but in America as well, it is perhaps unsurprising that many of today's successful chefs, including Jamie Oliver and April Bloomfield, got their start in the kitchen of the River Cafe. And it certainly does not hurt the success of the restaurant that the very great architect Richard Rogers (husband of Ruth) oversaw the construction/renovation of the restaurant (the building was previously an oil storage facility).

The dining room:

The kitchen (and very impressive oven):

Eventually, these two ladies wrote several cookbooks, my favorite of which is The River Cafe Cookbook.

First of all, they have edited this book extremely well. I cannot find one recipe in here that I either haven't already cooked and enjoyed, or that I don't want to try at some point. Second of all, every recipe is simple...deliciously so. You'd be hard pressed to find a recipe with more than ten ingredients, and I am always shocked and overjoyed by how fabulously good such simple food can be.

I've included a couple of recipes from the cookbook (quite honestly I was having an extraordinarily hard time whittling the choices down) to whet your appetites:

Penne with a Quick Sausage Sauce
The River Cafe Cookbook, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small red onions, peeled and chopped
5 Italian spiced, fresh pork sausages, meat removed from skins and crumbled
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 small dried chiles, crumbled
800 g can peeled plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
250 g (9 oz) penne
150 ml (5 oz) heavy cream
120 g (4 1/2 oz) Parmesan, freshly grated

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onion until light brown. Add the crumbled sausage, the rosemary, bay leaves and chili. Fry together over a high heat, stirring to mash the sausages. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, and continue to cook for 20 minutes. The sausagemeat should become brown and disintegrate. Add the tomatoes, stir and return to a boil. Remove from the stove.

Cook the penne in a generous amount of boiling salted water, then drain thoroughly.

Stir the cream into the sauce along with the drained penne and half the Parmesan. Serve with the remaining Parmesan.

Note: In the book there is also a version of this recipe called Penne With A Slow-Cooked Sausage Sauce that is similar, but takes about five times as long. It also is delicious (much richer tasting than the recipe above due to the longer cooking time) and cooking it is a great way to spend a cold winter afternoon.

This next recipe is phenomenal. The perfect example of minimal but great ingredients manipulated to make something inordinately wonderful.

Pork Braised With Vinegar
The River Cafe Cookbook, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

4-5 pound boned loin of young organic pork, rind and most of the fat removed
sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
150 ml (5 fl oz) red wine vinegar
150 ml (5 fl oz) Chianti Classico
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
12 fresh bay leaves

Generously season the pork with salt.

In a heavy saucepan with a lid, heat the olive oil and brown the meat on all sides. Remove the meat and put to one side. Lower the heat and pour the vinegar into the pan. Bring to a boil, and reduce the liquid by half. Add the wine, 100 ml (4 fl oz) water, the peppercorns and bay leaves and lower the heat to a simmer.

Return the pork to the pan and turn to coat it in the juices. Put the lid on but slightly askew. Simmer very gently for an hour, turning the meat two or three times during cooking. If the juices seem to be drying up, add a little more wine or water.

When the meat is cooked (still soft when prodded), turn off the heat, add extra salt to the juices, and let the pork relax for 5 minutes. Slice and serve with the juices and the bay leaves.


Karl-Edwin Guerre said...

Your blog makes for a great reat... and I enjoy the photo selection. When you get a chance, check out mine and let me know what you think. I'd love the feedback.
best wishes forthe newyear.

Laura said...

Your blog is definitely cool...and your photos are MUCH better than mine!

chinese grandma said...

hi laura - found your blog as i was researching for my river cafe sausage penne post. love it! you are a girl after my own heart - northern california native to nyc. check out my food and family blog sometime to give you a peek of where you may be in 10 years. =)

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