They say one can get an insight into someone by looking at their book collection. In this particular case I’m thinking of my cookbook collection. The books cannot hid the fact that my kind of food is economical and simple – the kind where the few, seasonally fresh, ingredients speak for themselves. It is also not difficult to discover that I am a big fan of anything Mediterranean. So, when the cookbook club, The Cookbook Guru, issued a request for nominations of books for their 2015 list among our own cookbook collections, it was fairly certain I would pick something that fit the simple and the Mediterranean profile.
Of the numerous Italian cookbooks on my shelves, I find myself returning to the River Cafe books by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. The food philosophy they infused into their London restaurant is reflected in their numerous cookbooks (and spin-off TV series). On the book jacket of their first book, simply entitled The River Cafe Cookbook, the food philosophy is said to revolve around traditional cucina povera. Literally translated as “food of the poor”, cucina povera can be characterised as rustic, straight forward home cooking that also pays attention to the quality and freshness of the produce. It always seems magical, transforming humble ingredients into something fabulous.
Spaghetti al Limone
Like many of the recipes in The River Cafe Cookbook, this one uses simple fresh ingredients. The one qualm I have with the pasta recipes in the book is the tendency to use too little pasta for the amount of sauce. Since I don’t like my pasta swimming in sauce, I usually modify the proportions. However, I do not alter the combination of ingredients or stint on the quality – simplicity, economy and taste all rolled into one.
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 3 lemons
- 100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 handfuls of fresh basil
- 500g spaghetti
Whisk the olive oil and the juice from the lemons in a bowl. Grate the Parmesan and stir a little at a time in the lemon and oil. Finely chop the basil leaves. Set both of these aside.
Boil well-salted water in a large pot and cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the packet. I generally cook it one less minute than printed to ensure that it will be al dente. When cooked, drain but do not rinse. Place the pasta back into the pot on very low heat and add the lemon sauce. Stir and lift the spaghetti strands until the cheese completely melts and the sauce coats the pasta. Turn off heat and stir in the chopped basil. Serve.
The River Cafe has been highly influential in the London food scene since it first opened its doors in 1987. Gray (until her death in 2010) and Rogers have since bequeathed their food philosophy to any number of restauranteurs (such as Sam and Sam Clark of Moro in London and April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig in New York City) and celebrity chefs (such as Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) and many others who trained in their kitchens.