I adore the decadence of panna cotta. It’s delicious on its own, yet the addition of fruit increases its luxuriousness.
Rhubarb is probably my favourite addition, especially in the spring when the forced stems are thin and delicate, rather than later in the season when the stems are thicker and I prefer to add soft berries.
Forced early rhubarb does tend to be thin and gangly; try to cut stems of roughly equal length for the best looking version of this dish. Pieces about eight centimetres long fit perfectly in my saucepan and on my favourite serving plates.
To make the panna cotta
Place your ramekins or moulds in the freezer before you start.
To make the panna cotta, gently warm the cream and milk in a saucepan. Add the seeds from the vanilla pod and the empty pod, as well as the sugar.
When the sugar has dissolved and the cream is just below a simmer (no hotter), remove the pan from the heat and discard the vanilla pod.
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for five minutes until soft, and then stir into the milky liquid. When they have completely dissolved, remove the ramekins from the freezer, make sure they are dry and wipe the insides with a dribble of vegetable oil on a piece of kitchen paper.
Pour the mixture into the moulds. Give them a little tap to free any air bubbles and place on a tray in the refrigerator.
To make the poached rhubarb
For the poached fruit, lay the rhubarb pieces in a saucepan with the caster sugar and the water. Ideally, the water should come about a third of the way up the rhubarb, so adjust the quantity of water accordingly. Add the cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns.
Poach for about four minutes. The rhubarb should be soft, yet firm enough not to disintegrate. The timing is critical as it's easy to overcook the fruit. Remove the rhubarb and put it on a plate in the refrigerator to cool.
Sieve the remaining liquid and reduce it to a syrup in the saucepan over a high heat. Cool in the refrigerator.
To serve, turn the panna cotta onto one side of the plate. Neatly lay a row of four pieces of rhubarb on the other side, and then another row on top of that, facing the other way. Drizzle over the syrub, hot or cold, and serve.
The rhubarb will be tart, the panna cotta light and sweet, while the cinnamon, clove and pepper undertones of the syrup pull all the flavours together.
This recipe is from The Allotment Cookbook by Pete Lawrence. Published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, available on 4 February 2016. Price £14.99
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