Vanilla and Lemon Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb

I remember my first panna cotta. It was in Riva in Barnes and I must have been about 20 something. I was determined to try and recreate it but try as I might, I could never get close. A few years later whilst working at The River Café, I learnt how to make their version, which was different, but just as superb. I always thought though that it was so delicious due to the quantity of Grappa in the recipe. But in this recipe, I have omitted the Grappa, mainly because I did not have any, and now realize that it is the combination of vanilla, lemon and cream which actually results in its complete amazingness. Delicious alongside roasted rhubarb but also wonderful with poached figs or just some fresh raspberries.

Vanilla and Lemon Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb

Serves 4

70 ml milk

2 vanilla pods, scored and seeds removed or 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste

1 lemon, finely grated zest of

375 ml double cream

1½ leaves beef gelatine, soaked in cold water

70 g icing sugar

250g rhubarb

65g golden caster sugar

Put the milk, vanilla pods, vanilla seeds, lemon zest and half the cream into a small pan and slowly simmer for 10 minutes or until reduced by a third. Remove from the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine leaves until dissolved. Stain through a sieve and then allow to cool a little, then place in the fridge, stirring occasionally until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

Whip together the icing sugar with the remaining cream. Mix the two cream mixture together. Divide into four serving moulds. Cover and chill for at least an hour.

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Rinse the rhubarb and shake off the excess water. Trim the ends and cut the rhubarb into little finger-sized pieces. Put the rhubarb in a shallow dish or baking sheet with sides, tip the sugar over, toss together, then shuffle the rhubarb so it’s in a single layer.

Cover with foil and roast for 15 mins. Remove the foil. The sugar should have dissolved, so give everything a little shake and roast for another 5 mins or until tender and the juices are syrupy. Test with a sharp knife; the rhubarb should feel tender, not mushy, and still have kept its shape.

To serve, sometimes I’ll dip the mould or cup into some simmering water to loosen the pannacotta a little, then turn it out on to a plate next to some rhubarb with its juice Or you can just put the rhubarb on top of your cups or glasses of pannacotta and serve from there.

Grilled Sweetcorn Slaw

Another salad featuring the wonder cure Apple Cider vinegar. This is quite an unusual recipe in that the slaw is lightly pickled and if there is one thing more fashionable and fashionably good for you it is pickled food.

Grilled Sweetcorn Slaw

Makes tonnes so feel free to half the recipe. Yotam Ottelenghi

100 apple cider vinegar

200ml water

¼ white cabbage, shredded (300g net)

3 carrots, julienned or grated (175g net)

1 small red onion, thinly sliced (140g net)

4 corn cobs, lightly brushed with olive oil (600g gross)

2 red chillies, finely chopped

20g picked coriander leaves

20g picked mint leaves

Olive oil

Salt and black pepper

Dressing:

50g mayonnaise

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1½ tsp sunflower oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

Place the vinegar and water in a small saucepan along with 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat. Place the cabbage and carrot in a bowl, pour over two-thirds of the salty liquid and set aside to soften for 20 minutes. Pour the remaining liquid over the onion and, again, set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the vegetables and onion well, pat dry, place together in a large bowl and set aside.

Place a ridged char-grill pan on a high heat and, when it starts to smoke, lay the corn over it. Char-grill for 10-12 minutes, turning so that all sides get some colour (this will create quite a lot of smoke). Remove from the heat and, when cool enough to handle, use a large knife to shave off the corn in clumps and add to the salad bowl.

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, pour over the salad and stir gently. Add the chilli, coriander and mint, along with a grind of black pepper, give everything another gentle stir and serve.

Kohlrabi, Apple and Beetroot Salad

Vinegar seems to be the latest thing. Not only is it fabulous for cleaning your house, but it turns out it is fabulous for you too. Whereas white vinegar is best for your house, apple cider vinegar is the one that is best for you. New research means doctors and scientists are calling it one of the ‘functional’ foods – foods that are not only nutritious but help prevent and protect against disease.

It contains the same important nutrients as apples – including pectin, beta-carotene and potassium – plus enzymes and amino acids formed during the fermentation process.

Its high potassium content encourages cell, tissue and organism growth, and the enzymes help boost chemical reactions in the body.

It also contains calcium, which maintains healthy bones, helps transmit nerve impulses and regulates muscle contraction, and iron, essential for healthy blood. Magnesium is another component, with many beneficial effects on the body, especially the heart.

Low potassium levels can make us feel permanently tired, and potassium-rich foods help prevent age-related illness.

It also enables the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid, which aids digestion. We lose acid as we age, but apple cider vinegar can help prevent common digestive disorders as we get older.

And if that was not enough, apparently it can help with dementia as well. Is there nothing vinegar cannot do?

Here are two salads this week which feature vinegar. Oh, and lots of healthy vegetables too!

Kohlrabi, Apple and Beetroot Salad

This salad probably serves about 12 people. I halved it and still had loads!

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

2 large kohlrabi

3 apples (cox is best)

2 medium beetroot

Bunch of coriander, roughly chopped, plus extra for garnish

1 garlic clove, crushed

55ml apple cider vinegar

50ml extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Peel the kohlrabi, cut in half and slice thinly. Core the apples and slice to the same thickness. Peel the beetroot and grate coarsely on a cheese grater or shred on a mandolin.

Mix together all the vegetables in a large bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well, taste and season – you can afford to be generous with the salt. Pile up on a serving plate and garnish with extra chopped coriander.

Insalata Caprese

Tomatoes are really good for you, so I am always trying to add them to salads, but to tell you the truth, I don’t really like eating them on their own. Cherry tomatoes are fine, but the large ones are just a bit too acidic for me. That is until you put them  together with bufala mozzarella and basil. Once combined I could eat platefuls. Obviously the creamy, mild mozzarella cuts the acidity of the tomato, but it is the big mouthfuls of basil which really make this recipe work. I quite like to add a little vinaigrette but traditionally it is just olive oil. Make sure to season your tomatoes well though.

Insalata Caprese

(serves 4 with bread)

About 600g tomatoes

Extra virgin olive oil

250g buffalo mozzarella

Small bunch of basil

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices. Cut out the core if it looks chewy. Put into a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper leave to sit for 10 minutes, then add 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and gently toss with a couple of spoons.

Arrange the tomatoes on a platter, spooning over their juices. Thickly slice the mozzarella and scatter with basil leaves. Drizzle with more oil and season with a little more salt. Serve.

Blackcurrant Ripple Parfait

Blackcurrants are back! I love them. Just the smell of them transports me back to a child, on holiday in the South of France, eating my favourite sorbet – Cassis. Unbeatable, except maybe by this Blackcurrant Ripple Parfait. The intense, sharp and slightly sherbety flavour of blackcurrants combines beautifully with the creamy custard. And best of all, you don’t need an ice-cream maker to make it. Serve it in slices as a posh dessert or scoop in into cones for the kids.

Blackcurrant Ripple Parfait

Serves six.

3 large egg yolks

105g caster sugar

125ml water

300ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

350g blackcurrants

Put the egg yolks into the bowl of a mixer and attach the whisk attachment; or pop them into a mixing bowl and have a hand mixer at the ready.

Put 80g of the sugar and the water in a small pan over a medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil, without stirring, until it thickens and turns slightly syrupy, or until a sugar thermometer reads 110C. Switch on your mixer and start whisking the egg yolks. Slowly pour the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over the yolks, whisking continuously. Beat for about four minutes, until the mixture is thick, pale, glossy and cool – it should leave a ribbon trail in the bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the cream and vanilla to soft peaks and fold into the egg and sugar mixture. Pour this into a lidded plastic container and freeze for about two and a half hours.

While the parfait is freezing, put the blackcurrants in a saucepan, along with a dribble of water to get them started, and the remaining sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, until the blackcurrants are soft and the juices have run. Rub through a non-metallic sieve into a bowl, then chill.

When the parfait is chilled enough to hold its shape but soft enough to work a little, roughen the surface with a spoon and make several channels, grooves and holes in it. Into these, trickle little pools of the blackcurrant purée. Cut the mixture a bit to spread the ripples around, but don’t overdo it or they’ll get too mixed up with the parfait and you’ll lose your pretty contrasts. Smooth over the top and freeze again for another three hours, until solid. Allow to soften for about 15 minutes before serving in scoops or slices.

Orzo with Peas, Bacon and Parmesan

My peas are a disaster this year. Usually my fail-safe crop at the allotment, they started off well but not enough water and too much sun meant that they were over far too soon, and instead of harvesting peas until the end of July, mine were all but done by the end of June. Luckily Riverford still have a good supply. Here is a recipe to pay homage to them before they are over for another year – Orzo with Bacon, Peas and Parmesan Cheese.

I always forget about Orzo.  It sort of has the texture of something between tiny Gnocchi and perfectly cooked rice – something I am still striving to achieve!  This recipe took me about 10 minutes to make from start to finish and made a fantastic family lunch.  Quicker and less fattening than Risotto, I most certainly will be using a lot more of it

Orzo with Peas, Bacon and Parmesan

2 Tablespoons olive oil

200g Streaky Bacon, cut in small lardons

150g orzo pasta

1 1/4 cup fresh peas

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Little Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Fry the bacon in a little oil, over a medium heat until really crispy.  Remove from the heat.  Cook the Orzo in plenty of salted, boiling water.  If using fresh peas, add after about 3 minutes, if using frozen peas, add after about 6 minutes.  Bring back to the boil and cook for about 6-7 minutes in total.  Drain when cooked and add to the bacon.  Use the oil from the bacon to coat the pasta and add the Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.  Garnish with young pea shoots if you have any.

Marsala Frittata

And for my final Frittata, this might even have been my favourite, which I wasn’t expecting, as I mainly decided to make it because I liked the name!

Marsala Frittata

Serves 2

Extra virgin olive oil

3 onions, thinly sliced

1 tsp. Garam Marsala

1 tsp. ground cumin

200g cherry tomatoes, halved

1 fresh red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

Small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

4 large eggs, beaten

Pre-heat oven to 170C. Heat some oil in a medium non-stick, ovenproof frying pan. Tip in the sliced onions and cook over a medium heat with a pinch of salt, for about 10 mins until soft and golden. Add the chilli and spices and fry for 1 min more. In a bowl lightly whisk the eggs. Season lightly and add the tomatoes, the chopped coriander and the onions. Wipe out the frying pan. Add a dash of olive oil. Put the pan back on a medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture and leave on the heat, just until the bottom and sides begin to set. Put in the oven until just firm, about 10 minutes. It is up to you whether you flip the frittata over or serve it the same side up. Cut into wedges and serve with a nice salad.

Goat’s Cheese, Mushroom and Watercress Frittata

My next Frittata was a real winner, The combination of goat’s cheese, mushrooms and watercress was particularly nice. I am really fond of this goat’s cheese from Abergavenney that I found at Sainsburys as it is the closest thing I can find to a fresh cheese and it works really well in this.

Goat’s Cheese, Mushroom and Watercress Frittata

Serves 2

Extra virgin olive oil

150g mushrooms, thinly sliced

180g fresh style goats cheese

Large handful of watercress

4 large eggs, beaten

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 170C. Heat some oil in a medium non-stick, ovenproof frying pan. Add the mushrooms and cook over a medium heat with a pinch of salt, for about 10-15 mins until golden brown. Add the watercress and cook for a few minutes more until the watercress has wilted.  In a bowl lightly whisk the eggs. Add the mushrooms and watercress and season lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Wipe out the frying pan. Add a dash of olive oil. Put the pan back on a medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture and scatter over chunks of the goat’s cheese. Leave on the heat, just until the bottom and sides begin to set. Put in the oven until just firm, about 10 minutes. It is up to you whether you flip the frittata over or serve it the same side up. Cut into wedges and serve with a nice salad.

Courgette, Bacon, Basil & Parmesan Frittata

When I tell new customers that I write a blog with Simon, to help them use up their veg boxes every week, they always reply “But are the recipes quick and easy?”  So, this week, here are three variations on a theme.  Frittata, an Italian style omelette can be packed full of seasonal vegetables and makes a great lunch or brunch in no time.

Courgette, Bacon, Basil & Parmesan Frittata

Serves 2

Extra virgin olive oil

6 rashers of thinly cut smoked streaky bacon

3 courgettes, thinly sliced

75g parmesan, finely grated

Small bunch of fresh basil

4 large eggs, beaten

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 170C. Heat some oil in a medium non-stick, ovenproof frying pan. Cut the bacon into lardons and fry until golden brown and crispy. Add the courgettes and cook over a medium heat with a pinch of salt, for about 10-15 mins until completely collapsed, soft and golden. Add the basil and cook for a few minutes more.  In a bowl lightly whisk the eggs. Add the courgettes and season lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the parmesan. Wipe out the frying pan. Add a dash of olive oil. Put the pan back on a medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture and leave on the heat, just until the bottom and sides begin to set. Put in the oven until just firm, about 10 minutes. It is up to you whether you flip the frittata over or serve it the same side up. Cut into wedges and serve with a nice salad.

Cherry Clafoutis

Finally, for this week a Cherry Clafoutis. I was asked to make one for my son’s “French Day” last week and he expectantly came home with a recipe in French, demanding that every parent of a Year 6 child produce one by Thursday. Half cake, half custard, it is quite a challenging recipe.

To spring this on me, in a week where my son not only needed a French outfit to compliment his French Day, but a pirate’s outfit for his Year 6 play, in the very same week I also had to deal with “Leavers hoodies” for 30 and as class rep to my daughter’s year 4 was expected to produce flowers, cards and thank you presents for the teachers, plus a picnic lunch, a T-Birds outfit from Grease for my daughter and of course go to work every day as usual and produce dinner every night for my family. This of course was the week that my cleaner told me that she was going home for a five week holiday to Poland. Five weeks! Who gets a five week holiday? So add cleaning and ironing to my list.

Pushed beyond limits, I was most gratified to hear that my Cherry Clafoutis had been the hit of Year 6. Kids had been clambering over it and even parents approached me and asked me what was my secret. Quite simply, unfortunately due to my appalling French, I had not been able to follow the supplied recipe from the school, in French. Therefore, I had used a completely different one! Years of experience taught me, no matter what you are making, “use a good recipe”. Coming from the most excellent book “Baking with Passion” by Baker and Spice and written by Dan Lepard, I knew that it would produce excellent results and apparently, according to Year 6, I was not mistaken.

Cherry Clafoutis 1

Cherry Clafoutis

Obviously I missed out macerating the cherries in alcohol for the kids and it was still delicious.

For the cherries

400g ripe cherries, the best you can find, stones removed

50g / 3 tbsp caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

50mls / 3 tbsp kirsch or brandy (optional)

For the batter

30g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

2 free-range eggs

50g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

½ tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

125g plain flour

150 mls whole milk

50mls double cream

Gently mix together the cherries, sugar and kirsch and leave to macerate for two hours. (The sugar will slowly permeate the cherries and intensify their flavour.)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease a baking dish with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Shake the sugar around the dish so that it is evenly coated, then tip out any excess.

For the batter, melt the butter in a small pan. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside in a warm place. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add the flour, whisk until smooth, then slowly incorporate the milk, cream, salt and melted butter.

Mix the macerated cherries and their juice into the batter and pour into the prepared baking dish.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is slightly domed and the blade of a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. To finish, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve warm.

Cherries