Return to The River Cafe: Week 1: Soup, antipasti and pizza

Over the next four weeks, only in 'The Sunday Review', collect the great new recipes from the 'River Cafe Cook Book Two', by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers - lauded for making the best Italian food in Europe

We begin our series with starters. Soups in Italy are often robust meals in their own right. Beautifully-made, tasty Tuscan bread, a few days old, is usually an integral ingredient (white sliced bread out of a bag would not be an alternative). Some soups are so dense you are hardly aware they are liquid at all. In these recipes, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray pile on the flavours using what they call their "signature ingredients": the finest extra virgin olive oil that they source themselves, vegetables and herbs such as rocket which they have specially grown. When they started their restaurant it was impossible to buy many of their ingredients in this country. They were lone pioneers in bringing cavolo nero to our shores, the sweet, nutty Italian black cabbage which they describe as the ultimate savoy. Now, they are pleased to see that a lot of the supermarkets have come round to stocking them.

Antipasti are the traditional tasty starters to an Italian meal. Rogers and Gray say that many of their own favourite dishes are the antipasti. They are hardly recipes, they say, just the pulling together of the finer ingredients to achieve classic dishes, such as prosciutto with crisp savoy cabbage. Or their simple summer vegetarian carpaccio - slices of young courgette or baby marrow marinated in lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, with shavings of Parmesan cheese and rocket. Pizza is another speciality of the River Cafe, but it bears little resemblance to the kind which has colonised the US and UK. These are not deep-pan pizzas: the dough base is not thick, fillings aren't piled high. In contrast to the soups, these are not meals in themselves, but appetising morsels, paper-thin bases with tempting toppings. Note the unhurried method of making the dough, using a wet batter or "sponge", to aid the development of texture, flavour and elasticity. MICHAEL BATEMAN

SOUPS

SUMMER RIBOLLITA

The winter version of this soup is made with dried beans and the new season's olive oil. It has been adapted to summer eating, using fresh beans and a lot of summer herbs.

Serves 8

500g/18oz fresh borlotti (or cannellini) beans, podded weight, cooked

extra virgin olive oil

4 young onions, red or white, peeled and chopped

1 head celery, plus leaves, stalks chopped

1 head fresh garlic, peeled and sliced

500g/18oz Swiss chard stalks and leaves, stalks sliced into large matchsticks

1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked from the stalks

1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked from the stalks

1 bunch fresh marjoram, leaves picked from the stalks

1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked from the stalks

2kg/4lb 8oz fresh, ripe plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch fresh borage (optional)

300g/10oz fresh spinach, tough stalks removed

2 loaves ciabatta bread, stale if possible, crusts removed

1 fresh red chilli

In a large heavy pan heat three tablespoons of olive oil, then add the onion and celery stalks. Stir and cook gently until they soften and brown. Add the garlic and chard stalks and continue to cook. When the garlic begins to colour, add half the basil, mint, marjoram, parsley and celery leaves. Gently fry and stir together to combine the herbs, then add the chopped tomatoes. Season and simmer for 30 minutes: the tomatoes should reduce with the vegetables.

Separately, in a large sauce pan full of boiling water with plenty of salt, blanch the borage and chard leaves and then the spinach. Drain, keeping the blanching water, and roughly chop. Add the leaves to the vegetable and tomato mixture along with the cooked beans. Tear up the ciabatta into 3 to 5cm (1-2in) lengths and add to the soup. Pour over some of the blanching water to moisten the bread, and stir in the remaining herbs. Check for seasoning, then add salt and pepper to taste and three tablespoons of olive oil. The consistency should be very thick.

Get rid of the seeds and fibres from the inside of the red chilli by cutting it in half and scraping with a teaspoon. Chop the chilli roughly, then place in a small bowl and add two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. To serve, dribble this chilli sauce over each bowl of soup.

FRESH BROAD BEAN SOUP

Rogers and Gray use lots of peas and beans. It's a very, very thick, dense soup and, like so many Italian soups, a meal in itself.

Serves 6

3kg/6Ib 8oz very young broad beans, podded

1.5kg/3lb 4oz very young peas, podded

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced

2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced

1 bunch fresh mint, leaves removed from the stalks (retain the stalks)

water or chicken stock

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Heat the olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan and gently fry the onion until soft and translucent. Add the peas and potatoes, and cook, stirring, for five minutes. Add a handful of mint. Pour in enough stock or water to cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add half the broad beans after five minutes.

In a separate pan boil 2 litres (312 pints) water. Add the mint stalks and remaining beans. Cook covered, for two to three minutes. Drain, and discard the stalks. Put a ladle of the soup mixture in a food processor with a ladle of blanched broad beans, and pulse-chop. Keep to one side. Pulse-chop the remainder of the soup with the rest of the mint leaves. Return to the pan. Add the remaining whole broad beans and pureed broad beans, and season the soup well with salt and pepper. Reheat gently and serve with the chopped fresh mint. The soup should be very thick with a combination of whole young broad beans and a rough puree.

ANTIPASTI

ZUCCHINI CARPACCIO

Hard, firm, young zucchini (that's courgettes or baby marrows) are thinly cut, sliced and marinated and served with shaved Parmesan. Use only small young zucchini for this salad. Good varieties are Gold Rush, Tondo di Nizza and Bianco Friulano.

Serves 6

1kg/2lb 4oz young yellow and green zucchini

225g/8oz rocket

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

110-175g/4-6oz Parmesan in the piece, sliced into slivers

Trim the ends off the zucchini and slice at an angle into thin rounds. Place in a bowl. Pick through the rocket, discarding any yellow leaves. Snap off the stalks, then wash and dry the leaves thoroughly.

Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper, and pour over the zucchini. Mix, then leave to marinate for five minutes. Season.

Divide the rocket leaves between the serving plates. Put the zucchini on top, and then the Parmesan slivers. Add a small amount of freshly ground black pepper, and serve.

BAKED PEPPERS WITH TOMATOES AND ANCHOVIES

These ingredients work well in the wood-fired oven. Be generous with the anchovies and the garlic, and use the best olive oil.

Serves 6

3 red and 3 yellow peppers

5 tablespoons olive oil

36 cherry tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into slivers

24 anchovy fillets

1 bunch fresh basil or marjoram

100g/4oz capers

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Halve each pepper lengthways and remove the core and seeds. Place the peppers in a lightly oiled baking dish, cut side up. Into each half put three tomatoes, two slivers of garlic, two anchovy fillets, a few basil or marjoram leaves and three or four capers. Lightly drizzle the peppers with the remaining olive oil and season.

Pour about 300ml (10fl oz) water into the base of the baking dish to prevent the peppers from sticking. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven. Remove the foil, and reduce the oven temperature to 120-150C/250-300F/Gas 12- 2, and bake for a further 40 minutes or until the peppers are soft.

GRILLED AUBERGINES WITH TOMATO-CHILLI PASTE

At the River Cafe they use the smaller, pale, purple aubergines rather than the Dutch variety. They have a fabulous nutty taste. Middle-Eastern stores stock them as do some of the grander supermarkets.

Serves 6

3 large, round, pale purple aubergines

extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh marjoram

herb vinegar (Volpaia "Erbe")

For the tomato-chilli paste:

5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

3 dried red chillies, crumbled

2 tablespoons dried wild oregano

2 x 800g/1lb 12oz tins peeled plum tomatoes, drained of their juices (retain the juices)

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the tomato-chilli paste first. Put two tablespoons oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan, and place over a medium heat. Add the garlic and gently cook until golden, then add the chilli and the oregano. Add the tomatoes and mash them into the garlic with a spoon. Stir and cook this pulp over a low heat for at least 45 minutes, stirring from time to time. The tomatoes should thicken and become almost dry. You may add a little of the drained juices if the tomatoes begin to stick. The colour should be an intense red and the texture sticky. Season with salt and black pepper and some olive oil. Spread over a flat plate and allow to dry out a bit.

Slice the aubergines 5mm (14in) thick and grill both sides on a preheated, very hot grill pan. Press to test and see whether they are cooked. Arrange the slices on a serving plate, drizzle with herb vinegar and olive oil to taste, then spread with the tomato paste. Scatter with the marjoram leaves and serve.

MARINATED MOZZARELLA AND CREME FRAICHE

This is a version of burrata, sold in Rome - buffalo mozzarella in cream. Rogers and Gray use creme fraiche.

Serves 6

6 buffalo mozzarella, about 120g/412oz each

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons each of roughly chopped fresh basil, marjoram, mint and oregano

300g/10oz creme fraiche

1 bunch rocket, trimmed

juice of 1 lemon

6 thick slices pugliese or sourdough bruschetta

extra virgin olive oil

For the bruschetta:

slices pugliese or sourdough bread, cut 1cm/12in thick

1 large garlic clove, peeled

extra virgin olive oil

Cut the mozzarella into 8mm (13in) slices into a large flat dish, then season. Pour over 100ml (312fl oz) of the olive oil and sprinkle over half the fresh chopped herbs. Spoon over the creme fraiche, then turn the cheese slices in this to coat and cover. Sprinkle the remaining herbs on top.

To make the bruschetta, toast the bread on both sides and lightly rub with the garlic. Then drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil.

Serve the marinated mozzarella with the bruschetta and the rocket leaves tossed with the lemon juice and some extra virgin olive oil.

BOILED LEMON AND ARTICHOKE HEART SALAD

This dish is unique to the isle of Capri. Lemons become very tender when boiled and lose their bitterness. On account of chemical sprays it's important to wash the lemons thoroughly.

Serves 6

4 organic, thick-skinned lemons

6 small or 4 large artichokes with their stems

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

150g/5oz almonds, toasted

4 tablespoons soft raw honey

juice of 2 lemons

120ml/4fl oz extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Wash the lemons thoroughly, and put three of them whole into a small pan. Cover with water and add 100g (4oz) Maldon salt. Cover with the lid turned upside down so that the handle keeps the lemons below the surface of the water. Otherwise, the lemons will float and not cook properly. Boil for 20 minutes. The lemons will become soft and the skin should easily be pierced with a fork. Drain and cool.

In boiling salted water, to which you have added the remaining halved lemon, cook the artichokes for 20 minutes or until one of the central leaves will come away with a little pull. Drain and cool. Pull away the tough outside leaves, trim the stalks of string and fibre, and cut away the choke if there is any. Cut the hearts in halves, or quarters if they are large. Put in a salad bowl and season.

Cut the boiled lemons in half and scoop out and discard the pulp and inner segments. Cut the soft skins into quarters and add to the artichoke hearts with the almonds. Mix the honey with the lemon juice, then add the olive oil. Season and pour over the artichokes. Stir in the thyme.

PROSCIUTTO AND FIG SALAD

It's important to use ripe figs, and it is a dish for the warm weather. Never, ever use cold figs. Ideally you should use purple basil and ripe black figs, or green basil and ripe green figs.

Serves 6

12 slices prosciutto crudo di San Daniele or Parma

9 ripe black or green figs

1 bunch fresh young mint

1 bunch fresh basil

1 bunch rocket

juice of 1 lemon

4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the figs in half. Pick the young tender leaves from the mint, and select the smaller basil leaves. Pick over the rocket leaves, removing the larger stems. Wash and dry.

Mix the lemon juice with the olive oil, and season generously. Toss the figs with the herb, rocket leaves and the dressing. Place on individual plates, combining the prosciutto slices into the salad as you do so.

WHOLE WOOD-ROASTED BEETROOTS

Buy small beetroots roughly the size of golf balls with their leaves on and root tail intact.

Serves 6

18 small summer beetroots

1 bunch fresh thyme

4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons vinegar (balsamic or herb wine vinegar)

juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons Maldon salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.

Remove the beetroot leaves 3cm (114in) from the bulb, and put to one side (use them in the recipe for beetroot, ricotta and beet leaf salad). Keep the root tail of the beetroots intact. Wash the beetroots thoroughly, dry, then put in a bowl. Pull the leaves from most of the thyme stalks. Keep a

few stalks whole. Mix the garlic and thyme leaves and stalks with the olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice, add the seasonings, then pour over the beetroots. Turn over in the marinade, and place in a baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the beetroots over then bake for a further 20 minutes or until cooked. Serve warm with other wood-roasted vegetables or cold with ricotta as in the following recipe.

BEETROOT, RICOTTA AND BEET LEAF SALAD

When you use young beetroot, you can eat the leaves.

Serves 6

1 recipe wood-roasted whole beetroots (see recipe above)

the leaves of the beetroots

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

100ml/312fl oz extra virgin olive oil

212 tablespoons herb vinegar (Volpaia "Erbe")

3 fresh red chillies, seeded and finely chopped

1 bunch rocket leaves, washed and dried

500g/18oz fresh ricotta in the piece, cut into 6 thin slices

1 small bunch fresh marjoram, leaves picked from the stalks

Sort out the tender leaves from the beetroots and remove the stalks. Wash carefully and blanch for two minutes in boiling salted water. Spread out to drain and cool.

To make the chilli sauce, mix together three tablespoons of the olive oil and the chilli. Mix together the remaining oil and the vinegar and season. Cut each beetroot into quarters. Toss with a few tablespoons of this chilli-free dressing.

Divide the rocket leaves between the plates. Then toss the blanched beetroot leaves in the remaining chilli-free dressing, and mix with the rocket. Place the quartered beetroots among the beet and rocket leaves, and cover with the slices of ricotta.

Sprinkle with the marjoram and spoon over a little of the chilli sauce

ASPARAGUS AND MINT FRITTATA

The frittata is an everyday light lunch dish in the Italian home. Start it on the top of the stove, finish it in the oven.

Serves 6

8 organic eggs

225g/8oz sprue asparagus

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g/2oz Parmesan, freshly grated

1 small bunch fresh mint, leaves picked from the stalks, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Cut off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus, and blanch the spears in boiling water until just tender. Drain, dry, then season.

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly. Add most of the Parm-esan and mint, reserving a little for the end. Season to taste.

In a small 20 to 25cm (8-10in) ovenproof frying pan, heat the olive oil, tilting the pan to coat all sides. Add the egg mixture and lower the heat. Cook over a low heat, loosening the eggs at the sides from time to time, until just set - it should be quite runny. Just before placing it in the hot oven, put the asparagus and the remaining Parmesan and mint on top. Place in the hot oven for a few seconds. Loosen the frittata with a long spatula and put on to a warm plate. Cut into wedges to serve.

PIZZA

PIZZA DOUGH

This pizza recipe was adapted from Alice Waters' restaurant in Califor- nia, Chez Panisse. Use a little rye flour for added flavour. Instead of making the dough straight away, it's started with a "sponge" (a liquid batter mixture).

Serves 6, making 6 x 25cm (10in) pizzas

Step 1

4 teaspoons granular dried yeast

125ml/4fl oz warm water

150g/5oz rye flour

Step 2

250ml/8fl oz warm water

2 tablespoons milk

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon Maldon salt

500g/18oz plain flour

Warm a bowl large enough to take the total dough mixture.

Mix the yeast with the 125ml (4fl oz) of warm water in the warm bowl. When "melted", add the rye flour and stir well to combine. Leave in a warm place to form a sponge for at least 30 minutes.

When the mixture has formed a sponge, add the remaining ingredients. Put mixture in a food processor or mixer fitted with a dough hook, and knead for 10 to 15 minutes. The dough will be quite wet and sticky (this texture will make a crisper crust).

Place the dough in a bowl greased with extra olive oil, and drizzle a little over the top. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for about two hours. Knock the dough back, and knead a couple of times then return to the bowl and let it rise for a further 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/ Gas 8, and have ready a large flat baking tray or a pizza stone.

When the dough is ready, divide into six pieces, and form into balls. Roll out each ball on a floured surface with quick light motions as thinly as possible. A sixth of this quantity of dough should roll out to make a 25cm (10in) pizza base.

PIZZA WITH MOZZARELLA, TREVISE AND ANCHOVIES

Trevise is a red salad leaf, the most bitter of the chicory, raddicchio family. Major supermarkets stock it.

6 x 25cm/10in pizza bases (see above)

18 salted anchovy fillets

coarsely ground black pepper

2 lemons

120ml/4fl oz olive oil

2 branches fresh rosemary, leaves picked from the stalks, finely chopped

3 medium or 2 large heads trevise

3 buffalo mozzarella, thinly sliced

Place the anchovy fillets into a dish and sprinkle with a little black pepper, the zest and juice of one of the lemons, and half of the olive oil. Sprinkle the rosemary over the fillets, and leave to marinate for a few minutes. Remove the outer leaves of the trevise heads, and peel the stalks. Cut each head into quarters if they are medium in size or eighths if they are large ones. Toss with the remaining oil and lemon juice.

Scatter the trevise over the pizza bases, and place the mozzarella slices on top. Arrange the marinated anchovy fillets over the mozzarella, then bake in a preheated oven for six to eight minutes until the dough is cooked. The mozzarella should be just melted, and the pizza rim crisp.

PIZZA WITH TALEGGIO, ARTICHOKES AND PROSCIUTTO

Taleggio is a good, tasty Italian melting cheese and now widely available.

6 x 25cm/10in pizza bases (see above)

6 small artichokes, prepared

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 bunch thyme, leaves picked from the stalks

350g/12oz Taleggio cheese, roughly cut, rind removed

300g/10oz prosciutto, thinly sliced

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the olive oil, add the artichoke hearts, and season with salt and pepper, garlic and thyme.

Cook the hearts, turning them continuously so that they do not burn, for about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool.

Dot the pieces of Taleggio over the six pizza bases. Scatter the slices of artichoke heart over the Taleggio, then season with salt and pepper. Bake the pizzas in a preheated oven until the dough is cooked. When ready, serve with a slice of prosciutto laid over the top.

! Richard Ehrlich picks his favourite Italian wines on page 59 NEXT WEEK

PASTA, POLENTA, RISOTTO

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