Five minutes with Masha Rener
Masha Rener is the queen of pasta, in our eyes. And we were lucky enough to chat to her about the incredible London-based restaurants Lina Stores, of which she is the resident head chef. We also took the time to catch up on her favourite food memories and where she’s planning to eat out at post-lockdown.
What’s your very first memory of food?
My mum is Croatian and regularly used to cook a soup called ‘Bozija kasa’ prepared with milk and polenta, I can still remember my family having it around the fireplace when I was about 3 years old.
What’s the first recipe you properly learned to cook?
I grew up in a restaurant kitchen in the countryside in Umbria with my mother so I have always been very curious about cooking and I was free to experiment with different ingredients as a child. When I was 10, I organised my first dinner for a couple of my parents’ friends. The menu was simple; ravioli with ricotta, breadcrumbs and tomato sauce but I can still clearly remember myself rolling the dough with a lot of effort. I can’t say that the dish was that good but the guests were good liars!
What’s the one recipe that you can’t live without?
I know this will sound so Italian but honestly my favourite dish is spaghetti with tomato sauce. Since I’m the Head Chef of Lina Stores and spend a lot of time travelling between Italy and London, this is the dish that my kids want every time I get home… they say it’s what they miss the most, rather than not having mummy around! My sauce is almost roasted and very thick, I always use the same brand of tinned tomatoes, unless fresh tomatoes are in season, then just add garlic and a bit of chili. Using a good brand of spaghetti is so important, I would always recommend getting an artisanal product that is dried over the right period of time rather than in industrial ovens.
Which food do you absolutely hate?
This has changed a lot over my life. Until I was 30, two things that I really hated were green peas and eel (after I had a really bad experience with them) but now the only food that I absolutely hate is pomegranate, probably after some rotten juice I had in Cyprus a few years ago, never again…
What’s the one ingredient that you’d take to a desert island with you?
Umbrian peaches. These aren’t actual peaches, rather a dessert and the name comes from their shape. Those who know me know I’m not a dessert person, it’s rare that I order dessert from a restaurant menu so this is quite an out of character choice for me. They are a type of éclair filled with Chantilly cream, Alchermes (a red liqueur flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla) and caster sugar. There is a pasticceria in Umbria which has the best recipe for them that I have been trying to steal for a very long time… but to no avail!
What’s the meal you’d miss the most whilst there?
Pizza. How you can make pizza on a desert island?!
You can have a one-off dinner party on your desert island… who would you invite and why?
Choosing who to bring onto the desert island would be tricky, but actually this lockdown has almost been preparing me for this! Going to a different place would help but I know the only people I could live with are my kids, Mia and Valentino, and my sister Giaia, we rock together, but the invite would have to be extended beyond dinner time as I wouldn’t want them to leave.
Which cookbook would you take with you to the island?
As a chef, I do love using cookery books, but taking one could make life tougher as I presume on the desert island there will be more coconuts and bananas than anything else. For this reason I would choose ‘Ingredients’ from L Werler and J Cox (Konemann), which is full of pictures of ingredients. In The Queen’s Gambit she learned to play chess by visualising the pieces, so I could continue to practice cooking with the help of the pictures.
Which meal did you cook the most throughout lockdown?
I like to make sure my family have a varied diet but they are also very spoiled, so I try to teach them the importance of healthy eating and using different ingredients. It is difficult to do and we do have the same dishes a bit too often. Two dishes that will be on the table once a week are “Cappelletti in brodo” and “Spaghetti al pomodoro”.
And… rather importantly, what did you binge-watch on TV during lockdown?
I tried to use all of the free time in lockdown in the best way possible so was careful to not watch too much TV. I have never wanted a TV in the house so that my kids wouldn’t become addicted, but we do have a projector that we use to watch movies together as a family, which always feels special. During lockdown we watched a lot of old cult movies from my youth like Blade Runner, Matrix and a lot of Miyazaki, our favourite director.
Where’s the first place you ate once restaurants re-opened? (or are planning to head to?)
I was able to come back to the UK before the second lockdown and the first place I went to was Kricket in Soho. The consistency of their recipes and cocktails is incredible. You have to try the fried chicken!
For people in lockdown, what’s a quick and simple pasta recipe that you’d recommend they try to make?
Well, I’m probably biased but there is nothing easier than ordering our filled pasta from Lina Stores online, we have ravioli filled with spinach & ricotta, veal, fresh artichoke & truffle and fresh ‘nduja & scamorza. Simply boil it then sauté with butter, sage and parmesan.
Tell us some more about Lina Stores – what is the restaurant’s concept?
Lina Stores takes its name from the original founder ‘Lina’, a lady from Genoa in Liguria who established the delicatessen in 1944. Since then, Lina has become an institution of traditional and authentic food. This heritage then passed into my hands and merging this with my knowledge of food meant we could open a restaurant where everyone can have the full Italian experience. Our concept is to make quality recipes and ingredients accessible to all.
Why do you think people flock back to Lina Stores time and time again?
Mainly for the quality of the ingredients and their variety but also for the atmosphere that our staff are able to create. The special connection with every customer, even for a short time, is very important, even more so now that we have all been in isolation.
What’s the most popular dish on the menu?
Our tagliolini, which are made from a dough with 30 egg yolks, that we serve with butter and black truffle is very popular and it perfectly represents our philosophy: few ingredients of the best quality, cooked by our expert chefs.
Your dishes change to suit seasonality, what has been your favourite dish that you’ve ever prepared, and why?
Personally, I love our pumpkin ravioli. The recipe is a must from Emiglia Romagna and I have added hazelnuts for an extra crunch. Eating homemade pasta is a great way to change the perceptions of people who don’t have a lot of experience with this type of food. I think pumpkin ravioli is a great starting point to enter this world of flavours.
Discover more about Masha’s wonderful pasta creations at the iconic Soho-based Lina Stores. You can even order pasta to your home during lockdown, so you don’t feel as if you’re missing out!