For the last 25 weeks, I have been jumping to my computer on Fridays to look at the recipes prepared by the bloggers cooking from Gourmet's list of 50 Women Game Changers in Food. The list has brought about lively debate and discussion throughout blogosphere and now - with life merely at a hectic place, I am thrilled to join the discussion. The first 25 game-changers were chefs and food writers that I was well-acquainted with (Julia Child, anyone?) The last 25 are fairly new to me. Even if I know them, I haven't cooked from/with them.
I thank Mary from One Perfect Bite for starting this extraordinary journey. If you would like to join in the fun, e-mail Mary for information on how to get started. Do visit her blog if you haven't already - her dry wit, honest assessment of recipes, travel stories and scrumptious offerings will bring you back to her blog again and again.
For week #26, we are cooking from Rose Gray (a Brit) and Ruth Rogers (an American). If you've ever travelled to London pre-1987, you likely went for the theatre, the history, the art, the royals, the Thames, the posh accents, the fashion - but you certainly didn't go there for the food. Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers changed all that. When they opened The River Cafe in 1987, the British got their first taste of Northern Italian cuisine on English soil.
Gone were the red sauces that populated London (and I love red sauce) and in its place was pasta mixed with seafood and/or vegetables, focaccia, an all-Italian wine list and an open floor plan that delighted all including the owner-chefs. Rose Gray mentioned that she felt like she was in an actress with the restaurant as her theatre. Every night was opening night. I can certainly relate to that!
Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers met in 1969 and although their paths crossed many times on both sides of the Atlantic for almost two decades, their partnership did not begin until the opening of The River Cafe in 1987. Described as bohemians, iconoclasts, they were two women who knew their own minds and believed in things passionately - whether it was food, art or politics. They lived many lives before that! Proof positive that life does not offer one direct path. There are forks and detours and one is never sure where the paths will take you but if you have an adventuresome spirit as they did, you can be in for a glorious ride.
I chose to make linguine with fennel and crab. And while crab is not exactly local in Minnesota (although we do get fresh crab from the Gulf Coast through November), fennel is still abundant and has not been trucked in from other countries.
Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers pioneered seasonal and local in London - way before the movement had taken off. This was an offspring of Rose Gray's time in Lucca where she duly noted how the Italians ate, what they ate and when they ate it. They influenced many chefs to do the same - most notably Jamie Oliver who trained under them at The River Cafe. One year after opening, The River Cafe earned a Michelin star which it retains to this day. Not too shabby for two self-taught chefs who would find themselves at the same protest marches for years before they decided to work together!
Linguine with Crab (from The Guardian, UK reprint of easy recipes from The River Cafe))
Linguine 320 grams (about 3/4 pound)
400 grams (about 14 ounces) crab meat - you may use canned - but avoid the $1.99 ones at Trader Joe's - there are better ones to be had - usually at the fish counter
1 fennel bulb
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 dried chilies
extra-virgin olive oil
Linguine with Crab Preparation
I did use a good quality canned crab! And in truth, the next time (yes, there will be a next time) I will use more crab. The crab need to hold its own against the anise-flavored fennel and I wanted more of the sweetness of the crab for balance. But I did like the nuances - sweet crab, licorice fennel (somewhat muted from the simmering) all balanced with the mellow linguine. The dish is a wee bit white, so I added some of the fennel fronds for color. As for the ease - it couldn't be easier or faster and that is always a plus for those busy days.
The River Cafe spawned many cookbooks. Take a look at them here. Sadly, Rose Gray passed away in February 2010. But her presence has been noted and her legacy will carry on to future generations. A moving tribute to her by the New York Times can be found here. And take a look at what the other bloggers are cooking from this dynamic duo. Their links are below.
Val - More Than Burnt Toast, Joanne - Eats Well With Others, Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden, Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, Heather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney, Jeanette - Healthy Living, April - Abby Sweets
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud, Mary - One Perfect Bite, Kathleen - Bake Away with Me
Annie - Most Lovely Things