The River Cafe was the brainchild of Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, who fell in love with space they found in Thames Wharf in Hammersmith in London and with the idea of establishing an Italian restaurant there. When they found the location of their future restaurant it was, as the New Yorker noted in 1996, “a dark province in the empire of fried fish and wilted sandwiches.”

Photo courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

When it opened in 1987, the restaurant had nine tables and was allowed only to serve lunch. Their neighbors petitioned the Hammersmith council complaining that the cafe and its clientele were “seriously diminishing the tone of the area.” But Rogers and Gray, who died in 2010, persevered and the result, 30 years on, is a restaurant that is usually described as iconic.

This short history of the River Cafe is important because “River Café London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant,” celebrates the place – with food and art. It is a scrapbook with recipes, or a recipe book with snapshots, facsimiles of handwritten notes, a New Yorker clipping, the first menu and subsequent menus decorated by well-known artists such as Cy Twombly and Ellsworth Kelly. Gray is credited as one of four writers of the book; the others are Rogers and the restaurant’s two head chefs.

It is also a beautiful book, saturated with bright colors (even the fore edges of the pages are bright pink) and designed with grace, making it is a delight to page through.

The design, the colors, the artwork and photographs do not overwhelm what the book is really about and that is cooking. There are many, many delicious-looking recipes in the book, ranging from antipasti, first course, entrees, side dishes and desserts.

The book provides recipes for meat and seafood, but it also has a wonderful array of vegetable-forward dishes that are perfect for vegetarians or vegans. Someone at River Cafe has a weakness for ice cream because the book includes a number of enticing recipes, along with those for cakes and tarts.

I tested two recipes, a Polenta, Almond and Lemon Cake (which happens to be gluten-free) and Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Anchovy and Pangrattato. Both of these – and most of the others – are striking in their simplicity, a quality the food at the restaurant has long been famous for. The recipes call for few ingredients, and the preparation is clearly described.

Because flavors are not piled onto each dish with many ingredients, spices and herbs, the quality of each ingredient is important. Be your best self when assembling them. This is not the place to use out-of-season tomatoes or inferior olive oil.

I looked everywhere for salted anchovies but was unable to find them so I used good quality ones in olive oil. Even if you are anchovy-adverse, you should include them. They add no fishy flavor, and they deepen and round out the taste of the broccoli rabe. The finished dish was perfect for a winter’s meal, broccoli rabe clinging to rounds of pasta covered with a delicious crunchy mound of toasty bread crumbs.

Julia McCue can be contacted at 791-6389 or:

[email protected]

ORECCHIETTE WITH BROCCOLI RABE, ANCHOVY AND PANGRATTATO

The metric measurements, while not commonly used in American kitchens, struck me as more accurate, and I did catch one serious conversion mistake. The amount of orecchiette, for instance, makes more sense in grams than in ounces. Nine ounces seems too little to feed six people and it is only 255 grams, not 500, as the book said. If you are not big on converting grams to ounces, 500 grams is actually 17 ounces.

Serves 6

8 oz. (250g) sourdough bread

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 garlic cloves peeled – 3 thinly sliced, 1 left whole

1 -1/3 pounds (600g) broccoli rabe (tender leaves and stems only)

5 salted anchovies

A pinch of red pepper flakes

A handful of fresh flat-leafed parsley, roughly chopped

9 oz. (500g) orecchiette

For the pangrattato (bread crumbs), remove the crusts from the bread and save for another use. Then chop the interiors in a food processor to form coarse crumbs.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan with the whole garlic clove. When the garlic is golden, add the crumbs to the oil and toast until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread out on paper towels to drain any excess oil. Season the crumbs with sea salt and black pepper while still warm.

Boil the broccoli rabe in salted water until tender – about 5 minutes. Drain and roughly chop.

Rinse the anchovies under cold running water to remove all the salt, then gently remove the spine bones and heads. Pat dry. Separate the anchovies into fillets.

Heat another 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Add the thinly sliced garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper and just a pinch of sea salt (the anchovies will add further seasoning) and turn on a medium heat. When the garlic starts to turn golden, add the anchovy fillets. Continue to saute until the anchovies disintegrate. Add the parsley.

Add the (still slightly wet) broccoli rabe and increase the heat so that the whole mixture bubbles furiously for a minute. Keep tossing the greens until completely coated. Reduce the heat and simmer briefly, but not too long or the bright green color will become dull. Check the seasoning.

Cook the orecchiette in a generous amount of boiling water. Drain and toss through the broccoli rabe sauce. Sprinkle with the pangrattato.


Comments are not available on this story.