Some of my most favorite dinners have been simple potlucks with college or grad school friends. In 2005, I spent my last summer of grad school in Oxford. Most of us stayed in the Lincoln College dorms, but my friend Chris and his wife Katie got a student apartment for them and their 4-month-old son. On Friday nights a bunch of us would head for the Covered Market, hunting for good stuff to bring to the apartment: wines, breads and cheeses (especially strong Stiltons and English cheddars), olives and other finger-foods.
One night Katie made a pasta dish from a cookbook she had bought at Blackwell’s–it was one of the River Cafe cookbooks, maybe the River Cafe Two Easy? It was cherry tomatoes sauteed with basil and ricotta over penne, and it was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten.
I went to Blackwell’s the next day and found The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers upstairs in the sale room. I have since found out that The River Cafe is one of the most expensive restaurants in London (which is pretty expensive to begin with), and that Rose Gray is maybe the Alice Waters of the UK: a pioneer for simple, local, in-season foods.
I love this cookbook–the recipes I have tried are fairly simple, delicious, and straightforward (though I have not yet tried to make risotto nero, in which the authors use photos to show how to get the 3 sachets of squid ink you need).
Onions, pancetta, and rosemary cooking on the stove: the smell alone is worth making this recipe.
adapted from The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
- 4 oz pancetta, cut into matchsticks (or Trader Joe’s sells a 4 oz. pre-diced package)
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup red wine
- 28 oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, with most of liquid drained out
- 2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 lb. penne or other short pasta
- Parmesan for topping
- Combine the pancetta and oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat (don’t get too hot; the pancetta will spatter). Fry until pancetta is fully cooked and crisp. (Time will vary depending on the thickness of your pancetta.)
- Add onion and rosemary; continue cooking until onions are translucent and soft.
- Pour in the red wine, tomatoes, oregano, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least 45 minutes. Sauce should thicken considerably; you can break up the tomatoes with a spatula or spoon at this point. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook the pasta, drain, then mix in with the sauce and top with Parmesan. Mangia!