Just a quick post with some inspiration for your wind-down aperitivo hour this evening. I got the idea for this grilled fennel, prosciutto & burrata antipasti plate from the River Café Two Easy cookbook and I loved it because as well as being very simple to make (it hardly even counts as a recipe; it’s more of an assembly job that you can undertake while the prosecco is cooling & you’re giving the house a quick once-over before your guests arrive), it’s also quite similar to a dish (or more accurately two dishes) myself & Ryan shared when we were at the River Café in January last year.
The longer I stay in London, the more I realise just how influential the elegant Italian influences & idiosyncratic look of the River Café is for the wider food scene here. Restaurants menus show echoes of the famous handwritten ones from the Hammersmith café (the ubiquitous ‘Prosecco with blood orange, £9’ appears everywhere during spring, written at an angle across the top of the left-hand corner of the menu); chefs who worked there (Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Stevie Parle & April Bloomfield, to name just a few) cite it as a continuing influence, and ingredients like Egyptian wet garlic or Datterini tomatoes that were brought to the fore in the UK by Rose Grey & the late Ruth Rogers are widely prized, proudly highlighted in good food shops across the city when they’re at the height of their season. As Skye Gyngell notes in Eat London, the ‘extraordinarily amazing’ River Café is a ‘uniquely relaxed and convivial’ place. These qualities come through in the River Café recipes too – they’re plates to be shared & eaten together at the end of a long week.
BURRATA & GRILLED FENNEL ANTIPASTI PLATTER
Like all the dishes from the River Café, the simplicity of this dish means that using the best quality ingredients is paramount. It needs a tumble of soft, pale pink, excellent quality prosciutto & a creamily yielding ball of either buffalo mozzarella or burrata – ordinary cow’s mozzarella just isn’t rich enough for an antipasti platter. The fennel bulb is boiled lightly before grilling, giving it a tenderness & texture that’s a little like marinated artichokes (also very good with burrata), but with a delicate aniseed flavour that makes a glorious counterpart to the sweetness of the ham & the milky freshness of the mozzarella. It is utterly transportative, for all that it is, and is ideal served alongside the last of the evening’s sun.
Serves 2-3 comfortably; simply double or triple the quantities for larger numbers of guests. If you want it to be suitable for vegetarians, just replace the prosciutto with marinated artichokes.
1 fennel bulb
1 ball of burrata or buffalo mozzarella
150g sliced prosciutto
A little fresh lemon juice
To serve: kalamata olives, crusty bread, rocket or herbs
Cut the fennel bulb lengthways into thick slices, setting the green leaf fronds aside for later. Boil the fennel slices for 2-3 minutes, or until just tender. Drain & grill on a barbecue, on a gas flame or at a high temperature in your grill until charred then dress with a little lemon juice & olive oil. Arrange with the slices of prosciutto and place the mozzarella ball in the centre, or tear if preferred. Add some olives and herbs or rocket and finish with the fennel fronds. Serve at room temperature with fresh crusty bread.
I was amazed & somewhat overcome to find a copy of the original River Café cookbook in a shop in Hammersmith recently that features both Rose Grey & Ruth Rogers’ signatures