Weekend food with Darina Allen

THE River Café on the edge of the Thames in Hammersmith was started as a staff canteen for architect Richard Rodgers and his team in 1985. His wife Ruthie and her friend Rose Gray loved to cook and had fun reproducing the Italian food they enjoyed on holiday in Tuscany and Florence.

The food was simple but always made with the freshest and most beautiful seasonal produce, gorgeous olive oils and wonderful cheese and cured meat. The word spread like wildfire, an invitation to lunch was much sought after, so in 1987 they decided to open to the public.

A friend from London sent me a postcard, “Come quickly, there’s a brilliant little café on the Thames serving delicious simple food in the Elizabeth David style”.

When I eventually tasted the food I was so charmed by the simplicity and flavour that I invited Ruthie and Rose to come to the school to teach a two-and-a-half day cooking class. I’ll never forget the flavour of the food. They were like two excited children in the garden and the greenhouses, picking, smelling and tasting, choosing fresh produce, planning what they would cook on the spot — we had a feast.

The restaurant flourishes and thrills 26 years later, but sadly Rose died in February 2010 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Her legacy lives on and this week we paid a special tribute to her at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Gillian Hegarty from Courtmacsherry, now a teacher with us, worked with and alongside Rose at the River Café for four-and-a-half years and loved and relished every moment. She fully realises her good fortune in having the opportunity to learn from such a brilliant natural cook.

Gillian chose many of Rose’s favourite recipes to share with us over two-and-a-half days — Rose would have been very proud of her prodigy. Here are a few for you to try, but there’s a multitude of other simply delicious recipes in the River Café Cookbooks by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers published by Ebury Press.

Penne con Zucchini e Ricotta

Serves 6 as a starter

Taken from the River Café Cookbook Two.

1kg (2¼ lb) small young zucchini (courgette)

Maldon salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

400g (14oz) penne

350g (12oz) ricotta cheese

1 bunch fresh basil, shredded

100g (4oz) Parmesan, freshly-grated

Trim the zucchini, then blanch whole in boiling salted water for about two minutes. Drain, cool and slice at an angle, about 1cm (½ in) thick.

In a large, heavy saucepan heat the olive oil and cook the garlic until very soft but not brown. Add the zucchini slices and toss over a low heat for 4–5 minutes.

Cook the penne in plenty of boiling, salted water, then drain well. Add the zucchini, then crumble in the ricotta. Season, toss together and add the basil and Parmesan.

Chargrilled Monkfish with Inzimino and Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce

Serves 3

500 g (18oz) monkfish tail, boned and skinned

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

2 lemons, cut into wedges

inzimino (see recipe below)

anchovy and rosemary sauce (see recipe below)

Rub a little oil on the monkfish tails. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a chargrill or griddle pan. When very hot, place the monkfish on the grill. Turn over after three minutes or when it no longer sticks, but when they have sealed and are brown. Grill for a further few minutes.

Serve with inzimino and anchovy and rosemary sauce.

Inzimino di Ceci — Chickpeas with Swiss Chard

Serves 6-8

175 g (6oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

1 large garlic clove, peeled

6 tbsp olive oil

900g (2 lb) Swiss chard leaves, washed and large stems removed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 dried chillies, crumbled

250 ml (8 fl oz) white wine

2 tbsp tomato sauce

3 handfuls flat leaf parsley

2 tbsp lemon juice

Extra virgin olive oil

Drain the chickpeas and place in a saucepan with water to cover, add the garlic, and a tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or until tender. Keep in their liquid until ready to use. Blanch the chard and chop coarsely.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onion and carrot, cook slowly for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Season with salt, pepper and chilli. Pour in the wine and reduce almost completely. Add the tomato sauce and reduce until very thick. Add the chard and chickpeas and mix. Season and cook for 10 minutes. Chop two thirds of the parsley leaves, and add to the mixture with the lemon juice. Serve sprinkled with the whole parsley leaves and a little extra virgin olive oil.

Anchovy and Rosemary Salsa

Serves 4

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped

12 salted anchovy fillets

juice of 2 lemons

150 ml (5 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

Crush the rosemary in a mortar, add the anchovies and pound to a paste. Slowly add the lemon juice, stirring to blend.

Finally add the olive oil a drop at a time. When about half is added, pour in the remainder in a thin steady stream, stirring continuously.

Alternatively, you can use a food processor although this method produces a thick sauce. Put the rosemary in and chop very finely, then add the anchovy and chop to a thick, fine paste. Pour the oil in slowly. Finally add the lemon juice.

Pressed Chocolate Cake

Serves 10

400g (14oz) best quality bitter-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces

300g (10oz) unsalted butter

10 eggs, separated

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 tbsp cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Butter and flour a 30 x 7.5 cm (12 x 3) inch cake tin.

Melt the chocolate with the butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water — the water should not be allowed to touch the bowl. Remove the bowl from the pan, cool a little, and then whisk in the egg yolks. Add the sugar and cocoa powder and mix well. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold into the chocolate mixture, a third at a time.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until the cake has risen like a soufflé and is slightly set. Now place on top of a plate that fits exactly inside the tin, press down firmly, and weight it. Leave to cool for 30 minutes, then turn out.

Hot tips

- Our Daily Bread: a history of Barron’s Bakery. The smell of crusty bread has been emanating from Barron’s Bakery in Cappoquin since 1887. Esther Barron now runs this business with her husband Joe and continues to supply the people of Cappoquin with bread baked in the original Scotch brick oven. Roz Crowley interviewed over a hundred family members, staff and customers in this beautifully produced book, of charming stories, anecdotes and recipes. Available from Barron’s Bakery or online www.barronsbakery.ie

- Robbie Fitzsimmons is a third generation poultry keeper from East Ferry. He rears wonderful free-range Aylesbury ducks for the table in the traditional way. He also rears plump chickens, geese and turkeys at Christmas. Telephone: 086-2056020 / 021-4651916.

- Tom Clancy in Ballycotton is another name to add to your list for excellent farm-reared poultry 086-3089431.


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