Simplicity With a Slight Hitch

By On The Bookshelf
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

ITALIAN TWO EASY: Simple Recipes From the London River Cafe

By Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

Clarkson Potter, $37.50

150 recipes

AUTHORS Gray and Rogers are co-owners of the River Cafe, a much-admired contemporary Italian restaurant they opened in West London in 1987. (Celeb chef Jamie Oliver worked in their kitchen for three years.) This is their sixth collaborative cookbook, true to the spirit of the dishes they create, inspired by their culinary travels in the Big Boot.

FORMAT Some cookbook introductions are written in a manner better suited for skimming, but this one is worth its two pages. The authors' lack of yadda yadda is a precursor to the uncomplicated dishes to come.

The cooking's off to a promising start with a dozen easy ways to serve first-course mozzarella cheese. There's an easy glide into subsequent chapters of pastas that are temptingly different. By the time you've flipped through the sections on Birds With Wine and Italian Vegetables, two themes have emerged: The food looks inviting, and the directions look doable.

That simplicity may be a little cruel -- especially for those who don't cook much or those who require a certain level of detail: No salt and pepper in the lists of ingredients -- don't the River Cafe cooks use them? Or are we expected to manage the seasoning on our own? (We've added some salt and pepper to the accompanying recipes.)

Number of servings? (Wait -- there was a one-time mention that the savory recipes served four.) About that Whole Leg of Lamb, Rosemary (in the titles, even the "ands" and "withs" seem to be considered superfluous) -- what's the internal temperature we're shooting for?

But those David Loftus photographs, all shot from overhead, command attention. The portions are neither mammoth nor precious. A casual salad is served with a vinaigrette that considers the sweetness or sharpness of its components. A cinnamon stick adds depth to clams steamed in wine. And the authors helpfully suggest when frozen ingredients can stand in for fresh. Bottom line: a keeper.

SAMPLE TIP A cucumber that bulges in the middle is likely to be filled with large seeds.

WHO WOULD USE THIS BOOK Cooks who are comfortable wielding a generous amount of butter and oil for flavor, and who are equipped with enough kitchen savvy to follow the laid-back lead of Gray and Rogers.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

© 2006 The Washington Post Company