RETURN TO THE RIVER CAFE

In the final week of our serialisation of Ruth Rogers' and Rose Gray's `River Cafe Cook Book Two', we take a look at drinks, ice-creams and desserts; WEEK 4: DESSERTS, ICE-CREAMS AND DRINKS
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The Independent Culture
The Italian influence at the River Cafe is nowhere stronger than in its desserts. Both Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray share the Italian passion for ice-creams, granitas (water ices), cakes made with ricotta and almonds, and chestnut puddings.

But Italians are less likely to end a meal with something sweet, preferring to have their cake with a cup of coffee at another time of the day.

Rogers and Gray have developed their puddings and desserts in line with the rest of their thinking. They use only the best ingredients, as few of them as possible, and let strong, distinctive flavours come through. "We don't like desserts which are over-sweet and over-sugared," say Rogers and Gray.

They follow traditional Italian ice-cream and granita recipes, but they have developed their own versions of panna cotta. "Every country has a recipe with cooked cream - the French version is creme caramel. Panna cotta is one of the best."

Many of their recipes arise from travelling through Italy, but their summer pudding is pure invention, coarse-textured Italian sourdough bread, soaked in a syrup made with Valpolicella. Bread and wine - what could be more basic.

An understanding of the River Cafe philosophy would not be complete without a reference to the seasonal fruit drinks served as appetizers. They range from freshly squeezed white peaches and sparkling Prosecco to freshly squeezed pomegranate juice mixed with Campari and Prosecco, a delicious aperitivo with a beautiful colour. MICHAEL BATEMAN

DESSERTS

MASCARPONE CREAM

At La Vecchia Osteria near Follonica, this is served as a dessert with cantuccini biscuits. It is also delicious with summer fruits and berries.

Serves 6

500g/18oz mascarpone cheese

4 very fresh, free-range, organic egg yolks

120g/41/2oz icing sugar

zest of 2 lemons (optional)

Beat the mascarpone lightly. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks. Add the icing sugar to the egg yolks, then fold into the mascarpone. Stir in the lemon zest. Keep cool until you serve.

MONTE BIANCO

A recipe from the former Marche province of France where chestnuts grow. Fresh chestnuts are essential.

Serves 6

500g/18oz fresh chestnuts

1 litre/13/4 pints milk

100g/4oz castor sugar

2 vanilla pods, split open and seeds loosened

250g/9oz creme fraiche

a little good quality bitter chocolate

Firstly, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Then, using a small, sharp knife, score the fresh chestnuts across the round sides of their outer shells. Drop them into the boiling water and boil for 15 to 20 minutes according to their size.

Remove a few chestnuts at a time to shell them; the shell will come off easily so long as the chestnuts are kept hot in the cooking water before being peeled. Squeeze each chestnut to crack the shell open, then prise the nuts out of the shell. Remove the bitter inner skin.

Heat the milk in a large sauce-pan then add the sugar, split vanilla pods and the shelled and skinned chestnuts, and simmer gently for 40 minutes until the chestnuts become quite soft; by this time the liquid will have reduced.

Put the cooked chestnuts through a coarse mouli. Add enough of the remaining reduced milk to bring the mixture together to form a thick dough. Test for sweetness.

Using a small plain nozzle, pipe the chestnut dough out into a mountain shape on a flat serving platter; this will take some time.

Serve with creme fraiche with some bitter chocolate grated on top.

PANNA COTTA WITH GRAPPA AND RASPBERRIES

This is one of many excellent panna cotta recipes from in and around Asti.

Serves 6

1.2 litres/2 pints double cream

2 vanilla pods

thinly pared rind of 2 lemons

3 gelatine leaves

150ml/5fl oz cold milk

150g/5oz icing sugar

120ml/4fl oz grappa, plus extra to serve

3 punnets raspberries

Pour 900ml (11/2 pints) of the cream into a pan, add the vanilla pods and lemon rind, bring to the boil, then simmer until reduced by one-third. Remove the cooked lemon rind and keep to one side. Remove the vanilla pods and scrape the softened insides into the cream.

Soak the gelatine in the milk for about 15 minutes or until soft. Remove the gelatine, heat the milk until boiling, then return the gelatine to the milk and stir until dissolved. Pour the milk and gelatine mixture into the hot cream through a sieve, stir, then leave to cool.

Lightly whip the remaining cream with the icing sugar, fold into the cooled cooked cream, then add the grappa. Place a piece of cooked lemon rind in each of six small 200ml (7fl oz) moulds or bowls, pour in the cream mixture and allow to set in the fridge for at least two hours. Turn out on to dessert plates and serve with fresh raspberries and a tablespoon of grappa poured over the top.

BITTER CHOCOLATE ROASTED HAZELNUT TORTE

A visitor from South Africa arrived at the River Cafe, clutching Rogers' and Gray's first cook book. He owned a restaurant and said he hoped this cake reflected their style.

Serves 16

500g/18oz shelled hazelnuts

500g/18oz Callebaut chocolate, or other dark bitter-sweet chocolate with a minimum of 68 per cent cocoa butter

500g/18oz unsalted butter, at room temperature

500g/18oz castor sugar

12 medium organic eggs

Preheat oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Line a 30 x 6cm (12 x 21/2in) cake tin with buttered greaseproof paper.

Roast the hazelnuts in the preheated oven until their skins become crisp and the nuts begin to colour, about 20 minutes.

Place the hot nuts in a tea towel, fold over and rub on a flat surface in the towel. This removes most of the skins.

Place the skinned nuts in a food processor and pulse-chop to a rough texture, not a fine flour. Set aside.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Allow to melt. Do not stir.

Using an electric mixer, beat the soft butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add the liquid chocolate, allowing it to blend in. Add the eggs one by one, continuing to mix gently. When all the eggs are incorporated, remove the whisk and fold in the crushed nuts.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Test if it is done with a skewer - it should come out dry.

Turn off the oven, but leave the torte in it, with the door slightly ajar, for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the tin when completely cool.

ALMOND TART

You can add whatever seasonal fruit you like as the final touch.

Serves 10-12

350g/12oz plain flour

a pinch of salt

225g/8oz unsalted cold butter, cut into cubes

100g/4oz icing sugar

3 organic egg yolks

For the filling:

350g/12oz unsalted butter, softened

350g/12oz castor sugar

350g/12oz blanched whole almonds

4 organic eggs

For the sweet pastry, pulse the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the sugar then the egg yolks and pulse. The mixture will immediately combine and leave the sides of the bowl. Remove, wrap in clingfilm, and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/ Gas 4. Coarsely grate the pastry into a 30cm (12in) loose-bottomed, fluted flan tin, then press it evenly on to the sides and base. Bake blind for 20 minutes until very light brown. Cool. Reduce the temperature to 300F/ 150C/Gas 2.

For the filling, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and light. Put the almonds in a food processor and chop until fine. Add the butter and sugar and blend, then beat in the eggs one by one.

Pour into the pastry case and bake for 40 minutes. Cool and cover with seasonal fruits.

ALMOND, LEMON AND RICOTTA CAKE

This recipe came from a pizzeria in Sabaudia, south of Rome. It's a Thirties holiday town built under Mussolini's orders.

Makes 1 x 25cm (10in) cake

250g/9oz blanched almonds

65g/21/2oz plain flour

finely grated zest of 7 lemons, juice of 3 lemons

225g/8oz unsalted butter, softened

250g/9oz castor sugar

6 organic eggs, separated

300g/10oz fresh ricotta cheese

Preheat oven to 300F/150C/Gas 2. Butter a 25cm (10in) round cake tin, and line with greaseproof paper.

Coarsely chop the almonds in a food processor. Combine with the flour and lemon zest. Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixer until pale and light. Add the egg yolks one by one, then add the almond mixture.

Put the ricotta in a bowl and lightly beat with a fork. Add the lemon juice. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the almond mixture and finally stir in the ricotta.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes until set. Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean. Remove from the tin while still warm, and cool on a cake rack.

SUMMER PUDDING WITH VALPOLICELLA

This is Rogers' and Gray's twist on English summer pudding. It's made using Italian sourdough bread, a Valpolicella syrup and fresh fruit.

Serves 8

1 sourdough loaf, crust removed and cut into 1cm/1/2in slices

675g/1lb 8oz blackcurrants (or small strawberries), stalks and leaves removed

675g/1lb 8oz redcurrants, stalks and leaves removed

675g/1lb 8oz raspberries (or blackberries)

300g/10oz castor sugar

100ml/31/2fl oz water

1 bottle Valpolicella Classico

3 vanilla pods, split lengthways

juice of 1 lemon

Wash the fruit and shake dry. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a thick- bottomed pan, then boil until the syrup begins to colour a light caramel. Remove from the heat, carefully add the Valpolicella and stir.

Add 450g (1lb) of each fruit plus the vanilla pods to the hot syrup, and return to the stove. Heat gently, stirring, until the fruits begin to release their juices. Try not to break the fruit up. Remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice and uncooked fruit.

Line a 25cm (10in) bowl with the bread, so that there are no gaps. Keep aside enough slices to cover the top. Pour the fruit mixture into the bowl; it should easily come to the top, the juices soaking into the bread. Cover with a layer of bread slices, pushing them into the fruit to soak up the juice. Weigh down with a small plate that just fits into the bowl. Put in the fridge for at least four hours.

Turn out and serve with a few fresh berries and creme fraiche.

APRICOT, NECTARINE AND PLUM BRUSCHETTA

This is a very modern Italian recipe, essentially toast with squashed fruit.

Serves 6

6 apricots

6 very ripe nectarines

6 plums

6 x 1.5cm/1/2in slices from a sourdough loaf, bottom crust removed

100g/4oz unsalted butter, softened

2 vanilla pods

250g/9oz castor sugar

50ml/2fl oz Vecchio Romagna (brandy)

creme fraiche to serve

Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6. Butter a baking tray. Butter each slice of bread on one side only.

Cut the vanilla pods into small pieces, and pound with the sugar in a mortar. Alternatively, roughly chop the vanilla with the castor sugar in a food processor.

Halve the fruits and remove the stones. Put the fruits together in a bowl. Stir in the vanilla sugar and the brandy. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes or so.

On each buttered slice of bread break and press two halves of nectarine, cut side down, so that the bread absorbs the juices. Place two halves of apricots and plums, cut side up, on top of each slice, and pour over the remaining juices from the bowl.

Bake the bruschettas in a pre-heated oven for 25 minutes. When ready, they should be crisp on the edges and the fruits cooked. Serve warm with creme fraiche.

BITTER CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

Makes 450g (1lb)

150ml/5fl oz double cream

400g/14oz bitter chocolate, broken into small pieces

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

best quality unsweetened cocoa powder

In a saucepan boil the double cream until it reduces to two tablespoons. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Add the butter and stir gently, then pour into a large flat plate. Put in the fridge for about 45 minutes until chilled and set.

With a teaspoon scrape across the chocolate so that it forms a rough truffle shape, in large curls, not balls. Roll them in the dry cocoa powder. Put them in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving.

ICE-CREAMS AND SORBETS

COFFEE GRANITA

This is a very traditional Italian recipe.

Serves 6

1 litre/13/4 pints espresso coffee made in an espresso machine (use about 250g/9oz coffee)

300g/10oz castor sugar

Make espresso by preferred method. While hot, dissolve the sugar in it. Allow to cool. Test for sweetness and strength, and add a little water if too strong.

Place the liquid into shallow ice trays or cake tins and put into the freezer. Allow the coffee to partially freeze, about 20 to 25 minutes. Mash this with a fork to break up the ice crystals, then return to the freezer and leave for a further 20 minutes.

Repeat this process, mashing up the frozen coffee, returning to the freezer and freezing, until you have a hard, dry, crystalline granita.

Use immediately. Serve with a helping of creme fraiche.

LEMON AND RICOTTA ICE-CREAM

Serves 10

1.75 litres/3 pints double cream

450ml/15fl oz milk

20 organic egg yolks

350g/12oz castor sugar

500g/18oz ricotta

juice and zest of 7 lemons

Combine the cream and milk in a heavy pan, and heat until just below boiling point. Remove from heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Mix a little of the warm cream into the eggs, then transfer the whole lot, including the remaining cream, back to the saucepan. Heat over a very low flame, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Remove when the mixture is thick, just below boiling point. Cool.

Roughly break up the ricotta, but not too much, otherwise the texture of the ice-cream will be lost.

Add the lemon zest and juice and the ricotta to the cream mixture, and mix briefly.

Pour into an ice-cream machine and churn until frozen, or freeze in a suitable container.

HAZELNUT ICE-CREAM

Serves 10

600ml/1 pint double cream

1.75 litres/3 pints milk

15 organic egg yolks

350g/12oz castor sugar

For the praline:

500g/18oz shelled hazelnuts with skins

450g/1lb castor sugar

300ml/10fl oz water

Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6. Combine cream and milk in a large heavy saucepan, heat until just below boiling point. Remove from heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Mix a little of the warm cream into the egg yolks then transfer the whole lot, including the remaining cream, back to the saucepan. Cook over a very low flame, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Remove when the mixture is thick and just below boiling point. Pour into a bowl and cool.

Put the hazelnuts in a tin in one layer, and then into a preheated oven for five minutes. Remove, peel off the skins, then return to the tray, now lightly oiled. Put back in the oven and bake until browned but not burnt.

To make the caramel for the praline, dissolve the sugar and water in a saucepan and boil until almost smoking. Pour over the hazelnuts in the tin and let cool until solid. Break up the praline and blend in a food processor as finely as possible. Add to the ice-cream mixture and stir well.

Then pour the ice-cream mixture through a fine chinois sieve. Put the bits of praline left in the chinois in a saucepan and cook until dark brown, about five to six minutes. Return to the chinois and press through, then stir into the ice-cream.

Put the mixture into an ice-cream machine and churn until frozen, or freeze in a suitable container.

DRINKS

SPUMANTE SECCO WITH BORAGE

Borage leaves actually grow in front of the River Cafe in Hammersmith. The leaves are pureed and the flowers added separately. This drink has a spicy, cool, cucumbery flavour.

Serves 6-8

150g/5oz castor sugar

250ml/8fl oz water

10-15 fresh borage leaves, washed

juice of 2 lemons

1 bottle of Spumante Secco or Prosecco, fridge cold

at least 12-16 borage flowers

Using a small, thick-bottomed sauce-pan, dissolve the sugar in the water, heating gently to make a syrup. When the syrup is hot, add the borage leaves. Stir and allow the borage to just wilt in the syrup. Remove from the heat, and cool. Strain the syrup, then add the lemon juice.

Put the syrup in a jug or cocktail shaker, add the wine (two-thirds wine to one-third syrup) and stir. Pour into champagne glasses, adding a few borage flowers to each glass.

BELLINI II

The juice of fresh peaches, squeezed in an orange juicer. Delicious.

Serves 6-8

10-12 ripe white peaches

1 bottle Prosecco, fridge cold

Choose very ripe white peaches. Cut them in half and remove the stones. Using an orange juicer, the rotary kind, press the juice from the peaches as you would from oranges.

Pour the peach juice into a jug or cocktail shaker with a lid. Add the same volume of Prosecco and stir to control the fizz and conse-quent overflow.

Cover with the lid, and pour gently into champagne glasses.

POMEGRANATE AND PROSECCO

Serves 6-8

10 pomegranates, very ripe

1 bottle of Prosecco, fridge cold (or champagne)

Squeeze the juice from the halved pomegranates as you would oranges or lemons. Fill half a champagne glass with the juice, and top it off with Prosecco or champagne.

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