Pasta and Zucchini

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.

By Published On: June 2nd, 201429 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

29 Comments

  1. backpackbee June 2, 2014 at 8:04 AM - Reply

    I adore zucchini! This looks delicious.

  2. sallybr June 2, 2014 at 8:23 AM - Reply

    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

    • chef mimi June 2, 2014 at 8:31 AM - Reply

      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…

  3. thesinglegourmetandtraveller June 2, 2014 at 9:03 AM - Reply

    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!!

    • chef mimi June 2, 2014 at 9:42 AM - Reply

      I would honestly suggest against it – there are just so many other restaurants from which to choose. Have you ever been to OXO? I was just remembering our meal there – another fabulous location as well. Great food, although it’s one of those restaurants that give you a time limit at the table, which is annoying.

      • thesinglegourmetandtraveller June 2, 2014 at 9:45 AM

        I have eaten at OXO a few times but not for years. You get a similar great view in Tate Modern restaurant and that’s really good, but not open every night.

      • chef mimi June 2, 2014 at 10:44 AM

        Really good to know. Have you ever had lunch at the Wallace Collection? It’s a very pretty place to eat, but not for the view.

      • thesinglegourmetandtraveller June 2, 2014 at 12:12 PM

        No I haven’t but I’ll remember. Thank you. Galleries often have good food.

  4. Sinfully Tempting June 2, 2014 at 10:23 AM - Reply

    Such a beautiful dish using fresh, simple ingredients…I love it! Wonderful photos, too! :)

  5. StefanGourmet June 2, 2014 at 3:34 PM - Reply

    Looks delicious! This should definitely be on its own :-)

    • chef mimi June 2, 2014 at 6:04 PM - Reply

      Do you mean with no meat added? I agree! That’s how I enjoyed it!

  6. StefanGourmet June 2, 2014 at 3:35 PM - Reply

    P.S. Really great photo of the uncooked zucchini. They usually look pretty uninteresting, but in your photo they shine :-)

  7. eliotthecat June 2, 2014 at 7:23 PM - Reply

    Such a lovely and fresh dish. Can’t wait for fresh zukes!

    • chef mimi June 3, 2014 at 7:48 AM - Reply

      I know!! I’ve already picked some! It’s a wonderful thing.

  8. DellaCucinaPovera June 3, 2014 at 6:35 AM - Reply

    I love pappardelle… the long ribbons are super fun to eat :)

  9. Conor Bofin June 3, 2014 at 8:04 AM - Reply

    Very elegant post Mimi. Nice use of the zucchini.

  10. Jody and Ken June 3, 2014 at 12:33 PM - Reply

    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

    • chef mimi June 3, 2014 at 2:34 PM - Reply

      And people say they don’t have time to cook!!!

  11. Michelle June 3, 2014 at 11:15 PM - Reply

    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!

    • chef mimi June 4, 2014 at 8:24 AM - Reply

      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.

      • Michelle June 4, 2014 at 8:26 AM

        Have you got a Yelp account? ;)

      • chef mimi June 4, 2014 at 8:27 AM

        yes, why?

      • Michelle June 4, 2014 at 8:38 AM

        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.

      • chef mimi June 4, 2014 at 8:50 AM

        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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