Monday, October 4, 2010

Sydney's favourite desert - Panna Cotta

Terry Durack of the SMH declared in July this year that 'Panna cotta is taking over dessert lists and it's time we said enough's enough'

Image: SMH

At the time, this made me giggle. I'm slightly obsessed with panna cotta, and have been for a while. I'm one of those people who skips straight to looking at the dessert menu when sitting down at a table in a restaurant. Seeing a panna cotta, maybe with an unusual flavour spin that would make it worthy of paying $12, would make my heart flutter a little every time. Well, that and maybe a molten chocolate cake. Which by the way also makes Terry Durack's 'same old' hit list. Luckily I'm not writing menus for restaurants, I might get well and truly stuck in a rut.

My obsession with panna cotta has taken me to dare to make this dessert for myself. Really, part of the reason for this is that I no longer get out to the sort of restaurant where it would grace the menu. There was a small problem with this - I searched numerous kitchen shops and none of them sold the silicon dariole moulds that make panna cotta achievable for novices like me. 

Eventually I dared to buy the solid steel ones. Sounding more than a little smug, I'm really glad I did. My main concern was the texture, after all that is what makes panna cotta panna cotta. But I need not have worried too much. They turned out perfectly; silky, glossy masses, scented with classic vanilla pods and eaten slowly and contentedly without any restaurant style accompaniment.

I think I'll be making these for my next dinner party. They completely take pressure off dessert making as they need to be made the night before to set properly. A seasonal fruit compote of your choice would add a beautiful touch, if you were so obliged.

My recipe:

3 cups thick cream
1 vanilla bean
90g caster sugar
3 x 2g gelatine leaves ( I used platinum strength from The Essential Ingredient

Heat the cream and whole vanilla bean together over a low heat. Once the cream is warm, halve the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and put these back into the pan. Then returning to the heat, stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Whilst warming the cream, place the gelatine leaves to soften in cold water for 5 minutes, then squeeze out the extra water and add to the warm cream mixture.
Next divide the mixture between six 125ml moulds.
Cover with plastic film and leave to set overnight.
The trick to getting them to come out of a mould is to place in hot water for a minute or so, and agitating the mould where possible.

Do you have any panna cotta flavour favourites? Or are you completely over them?

Felicity Cloake - Guardian love

I've been living away from England now for 8 years. It feels like a lifetime as I've re-set my mental positioning of what constitutes home, both geographically and culturally. No longer dry stone walls, subtle light, cosy houses and long winters, I've resettled in Sydney and have got used to cicadas, white hot summer days and easy going Australians. I think it's 'for good', as they say, but I try not to think about it too much. When I do I yearn for change, for stepping out of my comfort zone, and for re-awakening the senses as you do when you leave home.
With more time to search the web, (in between sleeps, eats and chores that is!) I've been reading the british news, particularly the Guardian online. In terms of newspapers, we get fewer dimensions in Australia, and we miss out on much of the discussion that seems to be taking place so passionately in the UK. Sometimes it's the big current themes, such as looking back at Blair's decision to go into Iraq, what and who was involved, the facts that were known. Other days, I just need to see what Kate Moss and Cheryl Cole are up to!
But for a country that's not universally known for its food, the UK really has a fabulous new culture. There are so many sites that re-invigorate my passion for food. The content BBC website alone would seed a lifetime of cooking.
But the Guardian website, and specifically the food section really is something else. The comment on food and food culture makes my mind wander, and my taste buds melt.  The new vegetarian by Yotam Ottolenghi makes me feel that eating meat is unnecessary for me, and Hugh Fearnley-Wittingtall's name alone takes me straight back to posh English school.

Image: Green Fence Farm Blogspot

But it's Felicity Cloake who really makes me think about my cooking, and being more thoughtful about how I approach new recipes and ingredients, essentially dabbling in the kitchen. I seem to do a lot of that these days. Her blog examines the modern basics in cookery - the recipes that anyone interested in cooking, or just seeing for themselves, will probably have given a go. How to make the perfect shortbread, bread, brownies, thai curry.  The little touches that make something personal, and a taste of the past.  Her entry on pesto is fabulous.

Image: Guardian UK

Felicity is methodical and thoughtful like a scientist in her approach to trialing recipes. She goes back to the origins of food and recipes, questioning which ingredients should and shouldn't be included, and whether they would have been available in a given time and place. This also generates some healthy debate from her loyal readers.  Felicity has made me reconsider how you select a recipe that will work for you, not just my past stance of faithfully wading into anything that had managed to get into a printed book. You know, someone must have tested it if it got into print, right?  With some of the recipes that I've cooked at home, I really wish I hadn't bothered. Spending hours in the kitchen in preparation, cost of ingredients, not to mention the washing up, with the results only to be thrown in the bin, or maybe donated to my doggies.  Through these experiences I've learned to be more picky, and do my own research.
Anyway, if pesto is your thing it's more than worth having a look. I've started omitting garlic - I know more than a few people who thoroughly dislike raw garlic, and I think it has its merits.
Thank you Guardian, I miss you.