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.

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.

Raspberry and Almond Tart

You know Summer is here when the raspberries start and there is no better recipe than this one for using them up. This is a sort of Bakewell Tart but instead of adding jam, the fresh raspberries, sealed by the frangipane, cook themselves. Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche and you have the most perfect summer pudding I can think of.

Raspberry and Almond Tart

Pastry

175g plain flour

80g butter

1 egg

Frangipane

175g butter

175g sugar

175g ground almonds

1 tbsp. plain flour

2 eggs

Amaretto (optional)

400g fresh raspberries

Put the flour and butter for the pastry, and salt if using, in a food processor. Mix until you have breadcrumbs. Add the egg and just mix enough for the pastry to come together in a ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.  In the same food processor put the butter, ground almonds and sugar. Whiz until you have a smooth mixture. Add the eggs and Amaretto if using and mix again. Next add the flour. Mix briefly one more time. Preheat the oven to 170C.  Roll out the pastry and line the tart tin. Use a small piece f pastry dipped in flour to really push the pastry into the edges of the tin to avoid it shrinking. Get a round piece of grease proof paper and carefully cover the pasty with it. Folding it down over the top edge. Blind bake for about 15 minutes or until the pasty is very light golden brown. If it rises at all during cooking, push it firmly down. Tip the raspberries into the tin and spread across the bottom. Top with the frangipane mixture, trying to cover all the raspberries. Bake for 30–40 minutes until risen and golden brown. Serve warm with crème fraiche.

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Strawberry Ice-cream

I love this time of year with all the summer fruits. When it comes to strawberries it is difficult to beat strawberries and cream. Only one thing is better on a hot summers day – strawberry ice-cream!

Strawberry Ice-cream

Serves: 10-12

700 grams strawberries

175 grams caster sugar (plus 2 tablespoons)

500 millilitres full fat milk

500 millilitres double cream

1 tbsp. vanilla bean paste

10 large egg yolks

Hull and roughly chop the strawberries, put them into a bowl and sprinkle over the 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and leave them to steep and infuse with flavour.

Pour the milk and cream into a heavy-based saucepan, and add the vanilla. Bring the pan nearly to the boil and then take it off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk the egg yolks and the 175g / ¾ cup sugar until thick and pale yellow. Pour over the scalding milk, whisking the while. Pour straight back into the pan and return to a medium/low heat. By keeping everything hot at this stage reduces the cooking time. Stir the custard until it thickens. This should only take a few minutes if you take care. Make sure you keep the mixture moving constantly at the bottom where is comes into direct contact with the heat. When you see a very subtle slightly oily, darker yellow separation in the mixture. Immediately pour into another container to cool.

Puree the strawberries in a processor, and when the custard is cool fold in the  strawberry puree.

At this point you can either freeze the ice cream in an ice-cream maker, or in a plastic tub in the freezer. If you do the latter you should whip it out every hour for 3 hours as it freezes and give it a good beating, either with an electric whisk, by hand or in the processor. That gets rid of any ice crystals that form and that make the ice cream crunchy rather than smooth.

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Apricot Tarte Tatin

Another super easy recipe for summer fruits. As everyone know, who knows this blog, I am not one to give a day over to making my own puff-pastry. I spent too many hot summers in boiling hot restaurant kitchens trying to do my umpteenth fold, butter melting and no matter how much flour I used, puff pastry sticking to warm stainless-steel counters, to undertake that again in a hurry.

Now a days I am all for “Ready Rolled All Butter Puff” and you can knock this whole, delicious desert up in about ¾ of an hour.

Apricot Tarte Tatin

75g/2¾oz caster sugar

40g/1½oz unsalted butter, cubed

10 fresh apricots, halved and stoned

375g/13oz sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry

Crème fraiche or ice cream, for serving

For caramelising the apricots, you need a large ovenproof frying pan with a base that measures about 20cm/8in in diameter. Put the sugar in the pan and set it over a medium heat. Cook until the sugar first melts and then caramelises and turns golden brown. Try not to stir the sugar but swirl it around the pan every now and then. When you get to a deep golden caramel, add the butter and

stir in the butter with a wooden spoon. The caramel will be extremely hot so watch out for splashes. When the caramel is smooth, carefully arrange the apricots on top, cut-side up. Leave to cool for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Unroll the puff pastry sheet Place a dinner plate or 25cm/10in cake tin on the pastry and cut around it. Gently place the pastry on top of the apricots and tuck down the sides with your fingers.

Bake the tarte tatin for about 20-25 minutes until the pastry is well risen and golden-brown. Remove the pan from the oven using an oven cloth to hold the handle of the pan – don’t forget – it will be very hot. Leave the tart to stand for a couple of minutes to allow it to settle, then loosen the edges and place a large serving plate or board on top of the frying pan. Very carefully, but quickly, turn it over, using a folded dry tea towel to help you hold it, and allow the tarte tatin to drop gently on to the serving plate.

Serve warm with crème fraiche or ice cream.

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Baked Blueberry and Vanilla Cheesecake

I like to have one or two definitive recipes for each seasonal fruit. Ones that I know will always work and when the season for that fruit comes around again I get excited and start salivating about making again. But up until now, I have never had one such recipe for blueberries. So, I set about rectifying the situation and the first thing that sprang to mind was Blueberry Cheesecake.

I am always a little apprehensive about making cheesecake. I think I have just had so many horrid ones, over sweet, gelatinous and gloopy! When I was a kid in the 70’s I even remember making one from a packet which was pretty disgusting. But then I went to New York and I will never forget the wondrous baked cheesecakes, topped with sour cream. Slightly grainy at the edges, totally wobbling creaminess in the middle. Mind-blowing. So, I was a little nervous of trying to recreate what I had reminisced. I scoured through hundreds of recipes to find one that sounded right, and never imagined that the first one I tried was going to turn out such perfection.

Baked Blueberry and Vanilla Cheesecake

150g digestive biscuits, smashed

20g caster sugar

70g butter, melted

Filling

800g Philadelphia cream cheese

150g creme fraiche

190g caster sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, or essence

4 eggs

30g flour

50ml milk

200g blueberries

100g creme fraiche

200g blueberries to decorate

Preheat oven to 170 C / Gas mark 4. Lightly oil a 25cm cake tin. I lined mine with grease-proof as I was frightened that otherwise it would leak.

Mix the biscuits, sugar and butter together and press evenly into the bottom of the tin to form a base. I used a potato masher.

Mix the creme fraiche, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla using an electric mixer. Add the eggs one after another and always mix well in between. Add the milk and flour and mix as well. Stir in the blueberries and pour into the tin. Bake for about 1 hour in the oven. The cake should be well risen, golden brown on top and just very slightly wobbly in the middle. Take out and allow to cool. After cooling spread the cake with 100g of creme fraiche and let it cool in the fridge for at least 3 hours. I couldn’t wait and ate mine after about an hour. Decorate with blueberries.

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Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova

I was sure I had come up with the perfect Easter dessert last week with my Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle – that is until I thought up this Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova. Be careful when you use rosewater, it can vary massively in potency. I was used to a rather wishy washy version and was a little too liberal with the almost essence strength of the Nielsen-Massey brand I was sampling. The result was rather like eating a bar of soap. Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend the brand, but just use it sparingly.

Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova

800g rhubarb stems, cut into small batons

200g golden caster sugar

2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthways or vanilla bean paste

350mls double cream

1 tsp rosewater (try Nielsen-Massey)

2 tbsp. sugar

For the meringue

4 large free-range egg whites, at room temperature

250g golden caster sugar

1 tsp cornflour

1 tsp white wine vinegar

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas. Using a pencil, mark out the circumference of a dinner plate on baking parchment. Whisk the egg whites with a hand mixer until they form stiff peaks, then whisk in the sugar, 1 tbsp. at a time, until the meringue looks glossy. Whisk in the vinegar, cornflour and vanilla.

Spread the meringue inside the circle, creating a crater by making the sides a little higher than the middle. Bake for 1 hr, then turn off the heat and let the Pavlova cool completely inside the oven.

Place the rhubarb batons in a large pan along with the sugar, vanilla and about 200ml water. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook very gently until just soft. Discard the vanilla. Remove the rhubarb from the pan, reserving the cooking liquid.  Reduce the rhubarb cooking liquid until thick and syrupy. Leave rhubarb and syrup to cool (can be made up to 2 days ahead and chilled until needed). To serve, whip the cream until it just forms peaks. Carefully ripple the rhubarb purée through the cream. Plate each meringue and spoon on some of the rhubarb rippled cream. Top with the remaining batons and spoon some of the rhubarb syrup on top and around the plate.

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Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle

I love rhubarb. I was trying to think of the perfect Easter desert and Rhubarb trifle sprang to mind, and then I just could not stop thinking about it. Layers of stewed rhubarb, vanilla custard, rhubarb jelly, sponge, cream and of course sherry. I chose a light almond sponge and soaked it with Pedro Ximénez sherry, which if you haven’t tried before, it is time you did. It gives trifle a sophisticated edge and quashes any old-fashioned associations of sherry being just a drink for grannies.

Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle

Almond Cake

110g ground almonds

140g caster sugar

4 eggs

Stewed Rhubarb and Jelly

800g Trimmed rhubarb (top and tailed)

200g Unrefined golden granulated sugar

Vanilla bean paste

Gelatin leaves

Vanilla Custard

570ml/1 pint milk

55ml/2fl oz single cream

1 vanilla pod or ½ tsp vanilla bean paste

4 eggs, yolks only

30g/1oz caster sugar

2 level tsp cornflour

Pedro Ximénez

Toasted flaked almonds, dusted with icing sugar

½ litre double cream

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

First make the sponge. Beat eggs and sugar until light and frothy. Add almonds and beat for 10 minutes. Pour mixture into a greased and lined 7-8 inch low square baking tin.

Bake in oven for 30-45 minutes at 170c. Cut into cubes when cold.

Next, stew the rhubarb. Cut the rhubarb into 1 cm chunks. Put into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar and 200mls of water. Stir well. Cover and cook on a medium heat. The lid will help the rhubarb cook down. Once the rhubarb has released enough liquid to cover itself, remove the lid, reduce the heat and gently poach until all the rhubarb is cooked through. It is nice if there is still some texture though and not a puree. Check the sugar. Add vanilla and strain the cooked rhubarb through a fine sieve collecting the juice in a measuring jug.

Soak the number of gelatin leaves required for the amount of rhubarb liquid you have in the jug. Soak them in cold water until softened (check the packet instructions for the correct amount of gelatin to use for the volume of rhubarb juice.) Place the rhubarb juice into a clean pan over a low heat and warm through gently. Gently squeeze the excess moisture from the gelatin leaves and add them to the pan, whisking until dissolved.

Bring the milk, cream and vanilla pod to simmering point slowly over a low heat. Remove the vanilla pod (wash the vanilla pod, dry and store in jar with caster sugar to make vanilla sugar). Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a bowl until well blended. Pour the hot milk and cream on to the eggs and sugar, whisking all the time with a balloon whisk. Return to the pan, (add vanilla bean paste or extract if using) and over a low heat gently stir with a wooden spatula until thickened. You can just bring it to the boil and it will not split because of the cornflour, but whisk well all the time.

Whisk the cream with the vanilla and sugar until soft peaks. Add half the diced sponge to the bottom of your serving bowl. A glass bowl is nice as it shows the layers. Drizzle the sponge with a generous dose of sherry and then top with stewed rhubarb. pour over half of the jelly and put in the fridge to set. When set, add half the custard and once again put in the fridge to set. Repeat the layers and then top with the whipped cream. Finally, finish with the toasted almonds.

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Parsnip, Carrot and Apple Juice

It suddenly occurred to me that parsnip juice might be nice. After all it has such a delicious sweet and nutty taste, I thought it might really add interest to my recent juicing craze, so I tried it out with a few carrots and some apples to see how it turned out, and I recon it is one of my favourite juices yet.

And would you believe it, parsnips are really good for you too. I seem to have had a cough that has lasted for ever, so I was pleased to hear that they contain phosphorus-chlorine elements which bring particular benefits to the lung and bronchial systems. They are also contain a high level of potassium, which gives the brain cells a boost, which is something else I can always do with. Parsnips are also packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties and rich in phytonutrients that may prevent certain types of cancers. Finally, if that was not enough they contain Vitamin B, C, E, K and Folic Acid and high levels of Potassium, Manganese, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Zinc, and Iron. So get juicing!

Parsnip, Carrot and Apple Juice

Makes one large glass

2 parsnips

2 carrots

2 apples

Chill the veg and fruit. No need to peel. Top and tail the carrots and parsnips and quarter the apples. Juice and drink.

Pear, Apple and Rosemary Juice

Riverford are running their juicing  box at the moment so it is time to make the most of it. I have been experimenting with herbs in my juices recently. I know it is a bit kooky but I believe that we all have a herb which we identify with.

Rosemary is my kind of herb – robust, assertive and gutsy. I also believe that when you instinctively crave something, it may be because it contains something that you might be deficient in. Rosemary is high in vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, a good source of antioxidant vitamin C and very high in iron. This Pear, Apple and Rosemary Juice was delicious. But try experimenting with your own choice of herbs and see how you get on.

Pear, Apple and Rosemary Juice

Makes one glass

3 pears

2 apples

Generous sprig of rosemary

Chill your fruit. Cut into suitable sized pieces. Put the rosemary into the juicer first. That way, when you add the fruit it will help extract the most from the herbs.