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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.