Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe (Clarkson Potter, $35), the latest cookbook from Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of London’s River Café, promises Italian dishes that are easy to make, or, as the book jacket boldly proclaims, "straightforward and sexy."
The book is filled with simple, uncomplicated recipes for bruschettas, salads, pastas, risottos, meat and fish dishes, and desserts. The recipes have stripped-down names like "Fig and Chile," a pasta of tagliatelle, black figs, dried chiles, and lemon, and "Spirale, Clams, Shrimp," fusilli tossed with shellfish, garlic, and arugula. Opposite each page of recipes is a mouthwatering, full-bleed photo of the final product.
I haven’t made a single one of the pastas or entrées yet, though I have been eying the recipes for gnudi (bianchi and spinaci), the denuded ravioli made famous in New York City by River Café protégé April Bloomfield at the The Spotted Pig.
I jumped ahead to the chapter entitled "Almond Cakes." They remind me a little of the almond cakes served at New York mini-chain Moustache. Not only does Moustache make great lahmajun and merguez sausage sandwiches, but the waiter presents you with a free slice of sweet, dense honey-almond cake when he or she brings you the bill.
I made the Pistachio Cake (see recipe below), one of four cake recipes in the book. I love pistachios, and they give the cake not only great flavor, but a striking pale green color. The glaze on top is fantastic, sweet and tart with lemon and sugar and chunks of nuts. A slice of the dense, buttery cake makes an excellent crumbly accompaniment to coffee or tea.
Kitchen Notes: (1) The recipe requires a 12 x 4 1/2 x 2 3/4-inch loaf pan, a somewhat unusual size that I did not own. This gave me an excuse to go shop for one at Bridge Kitchenware. All the better, since it produces the long, narrow shape you see in the picture above. (2) The recipe indicates "beating" the butter into the sugar and then the eggs. I actually tried to accomplish this by hand using a whisk, which was pretty challenging. Next time, I would try using an electric mixer to cream the sugar and butter together and combine the eggs.
by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
from Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe
2 1/4 sticks Unsalted butter
1 Vanilla bean
2/3 cup Blanched almonds
3/4 cup Pistachios
1 1/4 cups Superfine sugar
4 Eggs, organic
1/2 cup All-purpose flour
1/2 cup Pistachios
1/4 cup Superfine sugar
Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
Grease a 12 x 4 1/2 x 2 3/4-inch loaf pan with 4 tsp of the butter and line with baking parchment.
Soften the remaining butter. Finely grate the lemon peel. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Finely grind the almonds and pistachios together.
Beat the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the lemon peel and vanilla seeds, then fold in the nuts and sift in the flour.
Spoon the batter into the pan and bake for 45-60 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan, then turn out.
For the topping, grate the lemon peel and squeeze the juice. Halve the pistachios. Mix the lemon juice with the sugar, boil until reduced to a syrup, then add the peel. Stir in the pistachios and pour over the cake.
Recipe reprinted with permission. Copyright 2004 Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.