1 December 2011

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray Make River Café Focaccia col Formaggio

River Café Focaccia col Formaggio
River Cafe Focaccia col Formaggio
Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers are two English chefs who interpreted Italian food for an appreciative and loyal British public who snapped their cookbooks off the shelf and faithfully watched their cooking shows. It is easy to see how these two ladies were instrumental both directly and indirectly in changing how and what a huge number of people in Britain ate every day. What else within our control changes the quality of our lives more than what we eat?

Rose and Ruth opened the River Café in 1987 in a converted warehouse on the Thames in Hammersmith. Instead of cliché trattoria dishes like spaghetti Bolognese, they offered northern Italian cucina rustica with peasant dishes such as grilled polenta and Tuscan bread soup. All were made with seasonal ingredients sometimes flown in from Italian markets. When you're in London I hope you have the chance to eat at The River Cafe. To me this iconic restaurant would be a symbol like Alice Watters restaurant Chez Panisse in San Francisco where fresh seasonal ingredients are championed. These two women were pioneers in creating a menu featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients as the heroes with a completely Italian wine list and killer desserts like their signature “chocolate nemesis” cake. If only a few have the opportunity to enjoy the clean, precise flavours at The River Café, many more are able to sample their cuisine through Rose and Ruth's cookbooks.  "The River Café Cook Book" was published in 1995 and sold over half a million copies.

Ruth and Rose had also brought their love of Italian cuisine to TV and it was during the making of one of their programs that Jamie Oliver was discovered working in the kitchen. Jamie Oliver worked at the River Café for 3 and a half years, and it was at the River Café where Jamie was first filmed for TV as part of a documentary about the restaurant. I suspect these ladies had a strong influence on his style and choice of cuisine as well as their multitude of fans.

These ladies changed the way a lot of British people lived, and not just those who were lucky enough to eat in The River Café. With the death of Rose Gray at the age of 71 in 2010 British gastronomy lost one of its most influential figures. An expert on Italian food since living in rural Tuscany in the early 1980s, she preached the gospel of simple, authentic cooking and influenced many.

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
One of our simple pleasures in life is navigating the blogging community and participating where we can. Our group has now passed the halfway point with #26 on the list of Gourmet Live's 50 Women Game Changers. The past few months have flown by as we experiment with dishes from each of the 50 influential women on "the list." We began this journey back in June, can you believe it. Time really does fly!!!!!!!!!! Whether you agree or disagree with the authors chosen fifty and their order it has been an enjoyable and creative outlet to cook from the masters and those we admire. There are even a few bloggers on the list. We have checked out books from the library, borrowed cookbooks from friends, surfed the Internet and browsed our own cookbook collections seeking that one recipe that will highlight that weeks outstanding woman. This group is spearheaded by my favourite well-travelled blogger Mary of One Perfect Bite who invited bloggers to travel along on a culinary journey throughout the year. If you would like to join in contact Mary.

So what to prepare to highlight this weeks Woman Game Changer from Gourmet Live? This recipe originates from the village of Recco in Liguria. You will also find that focaccia col formaggio is made in many of the restaurants and bakeries all along the coast, from Genoa to La Spezia. Served hot, this crispy olive-oil-flavoured focaccia, with the melted, slightly sour cheese, Stracchino, and the flavours of the wood oven, is something not to be missed. I hope I have the opportunity to try the "real thing" when I travel there next year! Until then I may be visiting Seattle to use your wood fire oven Sortachef! I baked this in my own oven and served this focaccia with tender meatballs and spaghetti. I would love to think these two life long friends sat down together to have a homey heaping plateful of their own version of this classic in their own kitchens...served with a side of delectable Focaccia col Formaggio of course.

What have we been up to with our 26th Game Changer...

Mary of One Perfect Bite - Spaghetti al Limone
Val of More Than Burnt Toast - River Café Focaccia col Formaggio
Joanne of Eats Well With Others  - Winter Minestrone
Susan of The Spice Garden 
Taryn of Have Kitchen, Will Feed  - Boiled Artichoke and Lemon Salad.
Heather of Girlichef  - Lemon Apple Cake
Miranda of Mangoes and Chutney - Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes
Jeanette at Jeanette's Healthy Living - Penne all'Arrabiatta
Kathleen Van Bruinisse at Bake Away with Me - Pistachio Cake
Sue of View from The Great Island - CoffeeWalnut and Hazelnut Cake
Barbara of Moveable Feasts - Chocolate Nemesis
Nancy of Picadillo - Spahetti al Limone
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits - Baked Pears
Veronica of My Catholic Kitchen - Roasted Potatoes
Claudia Haas - Journey of an Italian Cook - Linguine with Crab and Fennel

**River Café Focaccia col Formaggio**
Taken from The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook
  • 400 g (14.1oz/approximately 3 cups + 3 tablespoons) plain strong bread flour
  • 1 scattering (1 tablespoon) of sea salt
  • 1 drizzle (3 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil (Ligurian is ideal)
  • 200 mL (approximately 3/4 cup) water
  • 500 g (17.6oz) Stracchino cheese (mascarpone is agood substitute/or in a pinch Buffalo mozzarella)

1. Place a large mixing bowl in a warm place and sieve the flour into it. Add 1 tablespoon of sea salt and 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

2. Stir in 200ml of warm water with a wooden spoon and mix together until you have a sticky dough, then cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.

3.Tip the dough on to a generously floured work surface. Coat your hands with flour and knead it for several minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.

4.Divide the dough into two, place in separate bowls, cover both with Clingfilm and leave for 15 minutes.

5.Preheat the oven to 225°C. Flour the surface again and roll out the first ball as thinly as possible into a 40cm diameter disc. Lightly oil a flat baking tray or pizza pan and lay the dough down on it carefully.

6.Grate or thinly slice the Stracchino over so that it covers the surface of the dough to within 1cm of the edge. Scatter with sea salt.

7.Roll out the second ball of dough to the same size. Place it on top of the first one to cover the cheese, and press it down lightly at the edges.

8.Drizzle the surface with olive oil, scatter with sea salt and place in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the crust is light brown.

9.Cut into wedges while still warm.

Serves 4

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. This looks wonderful! I love fresh bread :)

  2. A scrumptious looking focaccia!I've never eaten Stracchino cheese...



  3. Wow, Val, that looks fabulous! I can't wait to try this...copied it already. Don't know why I've never read about this recipe.....
    Super post!

  4. How fun to move away from the many American women we've been seeing represented.

  5. This looks perfect...pass me over a slice! =) Lovely write-up on these ladies.

  6. I cannot wait to try this, it's the perfect example of the simple but incredible food these two ladies are famous for. I am a sucker for breads that don't require yeast, too. I'm not familiar with the cheese, can you recommend a substitute if I can't find it?
    Your photos are luscious!

  7. I will be cooking from these two dynamos again and again. That focaccia would be a lovely place to begin.

  8. Oh this looks so amazing! I have never had stracchino cheese. I don't think I've ever seen it in the stores I visit. But it certainly looks so mouth watering...yum! Great choice!

  9. I can just taste the bread and feel the crispiness of it and the gooey cheese. I'm not sure what I want to do more now - go back to Italy or go back to London.

  10. What a great choice, Val. The bread sounds absolutely delicious and I can imagine its taste served warm from the oven. It is amazing what these two were able to accomplish without formal training. I hope you have a great day. Blessings....Mary

  11. If you cannot find stracchino cheese sustitute another fresh soft cheese like mascarpone. Buffalo mozzarellas would be different too.

  12. I've never heard of or tried stracchino cheese, but that pie sure looks good!

  13. I'm enjoying getting to know these two ladies! Each of you, my favorite food bloggers, have given a different recipe that I'm looking forward to trying in my own kitchen.


  14. Fresh stracchino cheese is a treat. Once of these days I will try to make it at home. I am glad you can find it.

  15. If it hadn't been SO close to thanskgiving, I totally would have made this. Looks amazing!

  16. Amazing! When I've had this in Italy there was often gorgonzol dolce added to the filling to add another layer of flavour. MMMM I think that I need to get cooking.

  17. It looks amazing and the spaghetti with meatballs in the background do too!! I will definitely be making this soon.

  18. this looks great - reminds me of a tiropita (a must-try for a winter meal soon)

  19. why, it's fancified cheese bread! sounds delicious. :)

  20. I've never even heard of Ruth before! Your bread looks so flaky and delicious. :-)

  21. Oh my, this focaccia sounds amazing! Paired with hot melted cheese - just outstanding! Your pictures make me wish I had some right now!

  22. Your focaccia col formaggio doesn't look anything like the focaccia I've seen before, so flaky and light - would love to try this.

  23. It looks so delicious Val! You are always having time and recipes for everybody... I admire you!

  24. Woa, I'm so hungry now after seeing this, it looks so tempting!
    I'm a sucker for melted cheese.

  25. This looks and sounds delicious, Val! I definitely have to check out the cookbook and try this. I'll be looking for Stracchino cheese and I'm sure it will be easy to find with all the Italian markets around here. Thanks for the awesome recipe!

  26. wow love the writeup. I'm so surprised to see that this bread recipes needs no sort of raising agent! can't imagine how it will taste.. but I'm definitely tempted to try!

  27. Great tribute. I didn't know that about Jamie Oliver. I love his food. I feel in synch with him, so I would love the food from these women too. Love the dish too.

  28. Hi Val - love this series. Nice to learn about Rose and Ruth. Your focaccia looks delightful.

  29. The crust looks sensational! When Vanja and I were in the La Spezia region this fall - Cinqa Terra - I did not see this on any menus, yet - was not looking specifically for it... and if I only knew! Yours looks like a lovely flaky pie. I cannot wait to try this recipe as it does sound divine.
    I am so excited for you and your trip next fall. Who are you going with, for how long and what do you plan to see?


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