Pasta and Zucchini

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A few years ago, I visited my London-living daughter in May. Because my birthday had just occurred, and of course she couldn’t just fly home to help me celebrate, she surprised me with two gifts.

One was a cookbook, and the second was a dinner at a restaurant. The cookbook was The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, and the restaurant she took me to was The River Cafe in London.

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The restaurant itself is in a lovely location right on the north bank of the River Thames. The inside of the restaurant is surprisingly modern. It’s a very open space, and the chefs can be observed in action, which is always fun.

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If I’d known I’d have a blog one day I would have tried to get a better photo, but you get the idea. It’s got a lot of chrome and aqua glass, which is very striking, although I personally wouldn’t have designed a traditional Italian restaurant in the same matter. But maybe that’s the point. Notice the pizza oven in the middle of the spacious dining room. There’s a bar and more space for dining room looking the other way, and the river side of the restaurant is solid windows, so the view is beautiful. There’s outside seating as well.

I remember my daughter and I had a lovely wine and wonderful antipasti. I had squid and my daughter, grilled asparagus with fonduta. So far so good. Then we both ordered a main course. Because of the restaurant’s reputation, we had grand expectations.

The River cafe opened in 1987 Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. Neither were chefs; they were simply two women who had deep passions for all things culinarily Italian. They eventually earned a Michelin star ten years later. This restaurant was also the training ground for future famous chefs Jamie Oliver, Sam and Sam Clark, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
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For the sake of this post, I just looked up The River Cafe on Zagat, and the food was rated 27, which is extremely good. On vacations, I take these ratings very seriously. 27, out of 30, is high, and although service is also important to me, the food rating is certainly more important to me, than say, decor. Think Indian restaurants, for example.

My daughter ordered some kind of fish, and I ordered a lamb chop. I try to get my lamb fix when I’m not at home, since my husband won’t eat it.

Unexpectedly, both of our proteins were overcooked. It was nothing we needed to complain about, as everything else was cooked to perfection, but it was indeed a little disappointing. Perhaps we had the understudy chef that night. But overall it was a lovely experience, made even more special by my daughter.

The two ladies of The River Cafe, Ruth Rogers on the left above, Rose Gray on the right, now deceased, wrote 6 cookbooks together. I’m very happy with the cookbook that was gifted to me, published in 2009. This pasta recipe is from my cookbook. It shows how simple cooking can be, especially Italian cooking, with delicious results.

In the amount of time it took to cook the pappardelle, this pasta dish was complete. Following is my take on their recipe, although I didn’t alter the ingredients at all. See below for the changes I made.

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Pasta with Zucchini

8.8 package of your choice of pasta
2 large zucchini, or 4 small zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, slivered
Butter, softened, about 3 ounces
Grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, slice the zucchini into equal thicknesses. The recipe called for 1 cm thickness, but I’m sure that’s a misprint. Mine were more like 3 mm. No cooking time for the zucchini is mentioned, so perhaps they did really recommend thick slices, but they took much longer to cook. I used a mandoline, with my heavy duty glove, to get the uniform slices.

Add oil to a large skillet; I used my wok. Heat the oil over medium heat.

Add the garlic, give it a stir, and then immediately add the zucchini slices. The recipe says to only have the slices in one layer, but that would have to be done in many multiple batches. I opted to add all of the zucchini.


Gently toss the zucchini and garlic in the wok, without using a spoon. It will gradually brown.

At this point, add the softened butter and lower the heat. Continue cooking, and gently tossing, until the zucchini has all softened.

Then add the pasta to the zucchini and gently mix together.


To serve, add some grated Parmesan. I also added coarsely ground pepper, which is the only ingredient not in the original recipe. Crushed red pepper would also be good.

I ate this pasta as my dinner, but I served it to my husband alongside a pork chop, as a side dish.

It could certainly be meatified with the addition of Italian sausage, grilled chicken, or flaked salmon. But on its own, it a lovely, subtle-flavored pasta dish.

note: If you want to make the original recipe, here is the ratio of zucchini, butter, and pasta:
8 ounces zucchini (I used twice that amount)
5.2 ounces butter (I used 3 ounces)
11 ounces pasta (I used 8.8 ounces)
I love butter and I’m certainly not afraid of using it, but over 5 ounces seemed like way too much, although granted I used a slightly less amount of pasta. The butter browns as you’re browning the zucchini, and it’s all utterly fabulous in flavors at the end.

29 thoughts on “Pasta and Zucchini

  1. I love zucchini and often mix it with pasta – however, I must say in my opinion it is a very tricky dish to put together, so easy to make mushy zucchini, so I love the way you pulled this, perfect!

    on a side note – are you left handed or the shot was taken like that for the sake of holding the camera? Sorry for the side remark, but I am curious… ;-)

    great post, too bad the protein was overcooked, I think that is a SIN when it comes to lamb or seafood, particularly salmon

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    • Overcooking shouldn’t happen in any highly rated restaurant, especially. It’s just not that difficult. And they weren’t even busy that evening.
      I am right handed. While I’m in the kitchen cooking, I use a little point and shoot for photos, so I can hold it with one hand, and attempt to hold things with my left hand, which is very challenging for me!!!
      I forgot to get back to you on the McDonalds comment. I think I must have a huge aversion to bad white bread, which keeps me away from burgers. When we travel it’s usually Subway. And I understand, I know you’re not dining at Mc’s every day!!! Although many people do, ugh…

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  2. Lovely recipe. Courgettes (zucchini) do taste wonderful cooked in butter but the more I use olive oil, the less butter I can handle so I’d want to add less like you. I also think your measurements for the slices makes more sense. What a shame about the lamb. Definitely not good in such a well respected restaurant. I’ve never been there. I really should!!

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  3. This is exactly the kind of meal I make for myself when I’m alone, can’t be bothered to go out and want something good but unfussy. Nice job with the multi-pic images too. Ken

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  4. That’s why restaurant reviewers (if there still are any professional ones out there) should go on multiple visits. It’s disappointing when on vacation, but every place is entitled to a bad day now and then. Pasta and zucchini is such a great summer dish. Yours looks great!

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    • I actually disagree. They might have bad service occasionally, but a restaurant’s chef, especially at that caliber of restaurant, should know how to cook protein properly, and consistently.

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      • Many complain that Yelp and similar sites too often reflect random experiences that may not give an overall fair assessment of a restaurant (or whatever is being reviewed). There are other complaints as well. But I was just referring to that. And just teasing. No offense intended.

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      • None taken. I just live in a town where there’s no great restaurant, so I take going to a restaurant during vacations very seriously! That’s why I love gordon ramsay, who i am aware most people dislike, but he’s all about perfection and consistently. Chefs at highly rated restaurants should be able to cook lamb properly in their sleep! I actually just deleted yelp from my ipad cause I never use it. But I know what you were saying, and now I understand. I guess that’s why I use other sources.

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