The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook - Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

Sharing a love of Italy

By Tricia Brown
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The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book by Rose Gray & Ruth Rogers

The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book by Rose Gray & Ruth Rogers [©Penguin Books Australia]


'There is a brief moment as summer overlaps with autumn when the beautiful borlotti beans are fully ripe in their pods, the huge, wonderfully-flavoured porcini mushrooms are beginning to appear in the markets, and the tomatoes are so ripe and sweet they are almost bursting.'

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers opened the legendary River Cafe on the River Thames in 1987 and have changed the way we cook, eat and think about Italian food. Along the way The River Cafe has provided the training ground and inspiration for many chefs including Jamie Oliver and also appeared regularly in the Top 50 Restaurants in the World.

Over the last twenty years, Rose and Ruth have both visited Italy many times and during these visits have learnt the many subtleties that appear in dishes from the diverse regions of the country.  "Most of what we have learnt has been from Italians who we've cooked side by side with. With this book, we want you to cook side by side with us."

The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook is Rose and Ruth's personal interpretation of these traditional and regional family recipes; a book rich with their experiences and knowledge along with evocative photographs taken of the Italy they know so well. "What we love most is the instinctive way food and wine play such an important part in everyday Italian life. Simple, regional cooking that gives endless pleasure - the Italian ethos."

There are recipes for special occasions and everyday meals, advice and suggestions, along with anecdotes and stories of people they have met and dishes they remember. The twelve chapters, containing over 200 new recipes, focus on the Italian menu; from antipasti to dolci as well as Our Favourite Places listing details of restaurants and cafes around Italy.

"This is classic Italian food - the traditional, regional food we love to eat when we are in Italy, the food we cook at the River Cafe, and the food we cook at home for our families."

The Pasta section, not surprisingly, is one of the largest and includes pasta making although it is not fresh pasta but dried pasta that most Italians cook and eat every day. An unusual White Peach Risotto with Prosecco (Risotto con pesche) which is served at The River Cafe in the summer is to be found in the Risotto section.

Bread is at the heart of Italy's culture and every region has its own particular type. In Tuscany you are served crostini "to be eaten slowly while choosing wine and food, keeping hunger at bay." In this chapter is, in their opinion, the best chicken liver crostini recipe they know. Along with pizza dough and some mouth-watering toppings there's also one of my favourites, Schiacciata, which is focaccia with black grapes. It's fabulous with morning coffee or as a dessert. Either way it won't last long!

All the Italian favourites are in the meat chapter  -  "The ones we make over and over again."  Many of the beef recipes are inspired by Dario Cecchini, the world famous butcher in Panzano in Chianti, a small village between Siena and Florence. Visiting Dario's shop is like experiencing a piece of theatre involving poetry or opera, but the star attraction is always the quality of the meat.

Roasted boned whole piglet, now sold all over Italy as street food, is stuffed and roasted with fennel and rosemary, cut into thick slices and placed inside a panino. A meal in itself and absolutely delicious. Whenever I'm in Italy I consider it a must to make my way to the food market in Florence for the porchetta al panino which not only melts in your mouth but accompanied by a glass of wine is the perfect lunch costing only a few euros.

Last year in Italy my friends served Bollito Misto, mixed boiled meats, and it was a revelation to me. I was thinking tasteless, grey meat with boiled vegetables. How wrong I was! Bollito misto is one of the most delicious, complex and sophisticated recipes of traditional northern Italian cooking. It is also to do with the sauces served with it which in The River Cafe cookbook include salsa verde, fresh horseradish sauce and a tarragon sauce. My friends shared a secret: When making salsa verde rather than use all olive oil which is the usual way to make it, use only a little olive oil and finish the sauce off with broth from the cooking meat. In this way the broth "softens" the taste but also adds flavour.

In Italy vegetables are considered central to the meal, not just an accompaniment to a main dish. Italy is, in fact, a vegetable paradise with cultivated fields, small family gardens and wild greens and herbs growing everywhere. Italian cooks will visit the vegetable market before deciding on the menu and know that cooking with seasonal vegetables is one of life's greatest pleasures. Menus change according to the season as they follow the rhythm of nature.

The ice cream section takes us from sorbets to gelati to granita with delicious flavours and enticing photographs. "When we arrive anywhere in Italy, just as we search out the best markets and the best restaurants, we also search out the best gelateria."  When I'm in Italy I love to stroll along the street with gelato in hand. The quality of the ice cream is outstanding as well as the many and varied flavours. Like the market produce there is such pride in the quality of the product.

When I first went to Italy I was a bit taken aback to find a jam tart on the breakfast table but now know better as cakes and sweet things are eaten at any time of the day here and usually with coffee. The stand up coffee bars found everywhere with pasticcerie - cakes, tarts and biscuits - are an important part of everyday life in Italy. Ricciarelli, found in any bar in Siena, is chewy and incredibly sweet, a creamy almond meringue dusted with icing sugar, and fantastic washed down with an espresso. 

If you love food and you love Italy, you will turn to this book time and again.


It is with great sadness that we learn that Rose Gray passed away on 28th February 2010 - as 'summer overlaps with autumn' in Australia... This is her last book.


The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers is published by Penguin Books (2009; RRP A$59.95). Subscribers of and Winepros Archive can purchase this book at 12.5% discount from our book partners Seekbooks (postage extra).


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January 13th, 2010
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