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3 Simple Pasta Recipes to Try From The River Cafe’s First “Look Book”

It’s an autumn morning at Vogue House, and three editors are oohing and aahing—not over a couture dress or vertiginous stiletto—but a cookbook Ruth Rogers has just placed on a glass desk. Cut flush and beautifully printed in Italy, every single page is a different color, fronted by a rainbow cover designed by Michael Nash Associates and emblazoned with the playful title: The River Cafe Look Book: Recipes For Kids Of All Ages. A compilation of the London institution’s much-loved recipes, it’s light enough to carry around the kitchen as you move between a cutting board and a simmering pot, but still gorgeous enough to display.

It might seem peculiar for the chef-founder of the River Cafe—arguably London’s most famous restaurant—to release anything designed for children, but, as Rogers affirms, her dishes are “actually quite simple.” (No gels or foams here, praise be.) Many of the restaurant’s classics have been pared back for the Look Book, too: in lieu of the chocolate nemesis cake, for example, readers will find a “pressed chocolate cake” which is easy enough to make with under 12s, but impressive enough to serve at a dinner party.

Auburn hair paired with chocolate truffles.

Photo: Matthew Donaldson

What makes the Look Book such a triumph, though, is its format. After trying to create step-by-step lessons about how to master kitchen basics (“boil a tomato, peel it carefully, remove the seeds”), Rogers and her team decided there had to be another way forward beyond having “a recipe on the left, a photograph on the right.” “It just felt so patronizing to me—and that’s never been part of the River Cafe DNA,” she adds.

Ultimately, the team’s inspiration came via Rogers’s late partner, the celebrated architect Richard. “My husband died recently after having a bad fall three years ago [which left him with brain damage],” she recalls in her lilting Transatlantic accent. “In those three years, he read a lot, and someone—my daughter-in-law, actually—sent us these books developed by a neurologist, an artist, and a photographer in Holland for people with autism and dementia. Each one pairs different images—with the goal of eliciting comparisons between the two—and I just thought, is there a way to do this for food?”

A metallic toothbrush beside lemon ice cream.

Matthew Donaldson

As it turns out, yes. Having already worked with photographer Matthew Donaldson on the previous iteration of the cookbook (along with myriad other River Cafe projects), Rogers joined executive chefs Sian Wyn Owen and Joseph Trivelli in trawling through Donaldson’s archives for pictures that could run alongside snaps of the River Cafe’s dishes. Among the evocative juxtapositions the group ultimately chose to include within the book’s 100 “Look” pages: brown lentils next to autumn leaves scattered across a pavement; a meringue that echoes the texture of a classical sculpture; and spaghetti alle vongole topped with chili next to wilted red tulips.

Each shot is exquisite enough to hang on a wall (here’s hoping the River Cafe shop launches prints in the near future), and makes you long to get into the kitchen, regardless of your level of experience. The 50 corresponding recipes in the “Cook” section, meanwhile, weave transferable lessons into foolproof instructions. A zucchini salad opens with guidance about dropping vegetables into cold water for 30 minutes to firm them up before peeling, while a wrapped monkfish dish is used to teach readers how to handle baking parchment. (The parcels should be seared “in a hot pan so they don’t stick” before going into the oven.) “I always say that a recipe is half science and half poetry,” Rogers reflects, “and these ones are really for everybody.”

Below, three classic recipes from The River Cafe Look Book to make now.

Spaghetti Lemon

Serves 4

This is the freshest-tasting pasta you can cook. The lemon makes it zesty and summery. Roll the lemons on a work counter before cutting them to release the juice.

  • 300g (10 1⁄2 oz) spaghetti
  • juice of 3–4 lemons
  • 150ml (5 fl oz/2⁄3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 150g (2 1⁄4 cups) freshly grated Parmesan
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 handfuls basil, leaves picked and chopped
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • scale
  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • grater
  • sharp knife
  • large saucepan
  • bowl
  • whisk
  • spoon
  • colander
  1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.
  2. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet (package) instructions until cooked but still firm (al dente).
  3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the olive oil.
  4. Stir in the Parmesan; as it melts in, the mixture will become thick and creamy.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Drain the spaghetti and return to the pan.
  7. Add the sauce to the spaghetti, and shake the pan so that each strand of pasta is coated with the cheese mixture.
  8. Stir in the chopped basil and the lemon zest.
Matthew Donaldson

Fusilli With Zucchini

Serves 4

This is a regional recipe from the Amalfi coast. The more the zucchini (courgettes) cook down, the creamier they are.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 500g (1lb 2 oz) zucchini (courgettes), cut into 1-cm- (1⁄2-inch)-thick discs
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely sliced
  • 150g (10 1⁄2 tablespoons) butter (divided)
  • small bunch basil or parsley, stalks removed and leaves roughly chopped
  • 320g (11 1⁄4 oz) fusilli
  • 50g (3⁄4 cup) freshly grated Parmesan
  • scale
  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • sharp knife
  • grater
  • 2 large saucepans
  • wooden spoon
  • colander
  • cup
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan large enough to hold the courgettes (zucchini) in one layer.
  2. Add the courgettes and season well with salt and pepper.
  3. Fry over a medium heat for 7–10 minutes until just beginning to brown.
  4. Add the garlic and half the butter.
  5. Lower the heat.
  6. Cook for 10 minutes until the courgettes have become soft and creamy.
  7. Add the chopped basil or parsley.
  8. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter.
  9. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.
  10. Add the fusilli to the pan and cook according to the packet (package) instructions, until cooked but still firm (al dente).
  11. Drain, reserving 120 ml (4 fl oz/1⁄2 cup) of the cooking water.
  12. Stir the cooking water into the courgettes to loosen the sauce.
  13. Add the fusilli to the sauce and mix very well with a spoon.
  14. Serve with the grated Parmesan.
Matthew Donaldson

Gnocchi With Tomato Sauce

Serves 6

Gnocchi should be made as light as possible. A potato ricer gets great results. If you’re using tomatoes with a lot of juice, put them in a colander to drain them.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 red onions, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 800g (28 oz) tin peeled plum tomatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1kg (2lb 4 oz) white floury potatoes, washed
  • 130g (1 cup) 00 flour
  • 1 large (extra-large) egg, lightly beaten
  • 10 basil leaves
  • scale
  • measuring cups
  • sharp knife
  • tin opener
  • small bowl
  • fork
  • large frying pan
  • wooden spoon
  • large saucepan
  • colander
  • blunt knife
  • Mouli grater (food mill) or potato ricer
  • sieve
  • slotted spoon
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and fry for 10 minutes until soft.
  3. Add the tomatoes and stir to break them up.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Cook over the lowest heat while you make the gnocchi.
  6. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and add potatoes.
  7. Cook for 20–25 minutes until they are easily pierced with a fork. Drain.
  8. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them with a blunt knife.
  9. Immediately put the potatoes through a Mouli grater (food mill) or potato ricer onto a clean work counter.
  10. Sift the flour over the warm potatoes and make a well in the center.
  11. Add the beaten egg.
  12. Using your hands, quickly mix to form a smooth, soft dough. Do not overwork the dough or you will make the gnocchi too chewy.
  13. Divide the dough into four.
  14. Using your hands, roll the dough into a sausage of 1.5cm (5⁄8 inch) diameter.
  15. Cut these into 2.5cm (1-inch)-long pieces with a knife.
  16. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the gnocchi for 3 minutes until they rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon.
  17. Remove the tomato sauce from the heat and stir in the basil.
  18. Put the gnocchi into the pan, mix well and serve.


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