Casting Rose Pannacotta

It starts with buck­ets and spades on the beach — the com­pul­sion to fill a con­tainer, invert it, give it a smart tap and then tip a per­fect rep­lica out onto the sand. If you’re very good at it, you evolve into Auguste Rodin or Rachel Whiteread, who filled an East Lon­don house with con­crete to make a cast of its interior. But, don’t worry. For the rest of us, there’s always pannacotta.

I’ve just found a beau­ti­ful 1920s china jelly mould in a junk shop — per­fect for the would-be sculptor inside myself. It had been look­ing eleg­antly beau­ti­ful on a shelf in the kit­chen, until I was inspired to use it by Peter Hone. Peter has a job title to mar­vel at — he’s a Mas­ter Plaster Caster. I dis­covered his work at my favour­ite place for archi­tec­tural sal­vage, LASSCO Three Pigeons in Oxford­shire. A man with such an impress­ive title needs a stately home — in this case, a derel­ict Tele­phone Repeater Sta­tion ren­ov­ated by LASSCO espe­cially to house Peter’s creations.

The new Hone Exchange, a glor­i­ously eccent­ric build­ing, is now crammed with Peter’s mag­ni­fi­cent plaster casts of leaves, feet, animal skulls and heads.

After a happy half hour look­ing at the beau­ti­ful objects inside the Exchange, I was in the mood to cast my pannacotta.

ROSE PANNACOTTA

Makes 6 — 8 small pannacottas

  • 4 leaves gelatine
  • 600ml double cream
  • 170ml full cream milk
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 tea­spoon rose water
  • Strip of lemon peel

Place the gelat­ine in a bowl of cold water to soften for ten minutes. Heat the milk, cream, lemon peel and seeds scraped from the inside of the vanilla pod. When it is at sim­mer­ing point, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it is com­pletely dis­solved. Wring out the gelat­ine leaves and stir into the cream, one at a time. When they have dis­solved, add the rose water.

Remove the lemon peel and pour the cream mix­ture into the moulds. When cool, put them in the fridge. They should be firm enough to turn out after a couple of hours. Dip the moulds into hot water for ten seconds and then turn them upside down onto plates. Wiggle them about a bit, if the pan­nacotta doesn’t flop out.

I served mine with a few sum­mer ber­ries and tiny basil leaves as well as with some rhu­barb that I poached in logan­berry syrup with a couple of cardamons.

The 1920s jelly mould turned out to be just too statuesque for a pan­nacotta. The fin­ished pud­ding looked more like a vast white whale on the hori­zon. The mould has been restored to its shelf, where it con­tin­ues to look coolly beau­ti­ful. Far bet­ter were the ancient moulds I was given when I was at university.

I’ll never qual­ify for the title of Mas­ter Plaster Caster, but am won­der­ing if my pan­nacotta could at least be A Pan­nacotta Cantata.

Pan­nacotta should be small, del­ic­ate and dis­ap­pear in a few mouth­fuls. Above all, what you must remem­ber is that the per­fect pan­nacotta should achieve the kind of wobble you pray your thighs will never have.

Review: Everybody Everyday and Eat Your Veg

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Every­body Every­day by Alex Mackay

Pub­lished by Blooms­bury May 2012

Price £20.00

Devis­ing a new twist on an old favour­ite isn’t easy, as the cre­at­ors of the umbrella hat, the fluffy mono-slipper and the Leonardo da Vinci action fig­ure will tell you. But, remark­ably, I think Alex Mackay has done it. Every­body Every­day is a superbly prac­tical book in which he demon­strates how to cook six basic ingredi­ents, six sauces and six slow-cooked meals and then offers a won­der­ful series of vari­ations on each. Mas­ter the basics and the pos­sib­il­it­ies are seem­ingly endless.

Hav­ing been a cook­ery teacher for years, work­ing with Ray­mond Blanc and Delia Smith, Alex knows how to get his mes­sage across. He’s a bril­liant chef, but he makes his recipes appear effortless. Take for instance the sec­tion on baked chicken breasts. Alex has devised the fol­low­ing ways to cook them: with por­cini, pars­ley sauce and spin­ach, with tomato, lemon and almond dress­ing, with soy, honey, orange and ginger, with mus­tard, chives, run­ner beans and peas, with corn and chilli rel­ish and finally with sweet and sour kid­ney beans and avo­cado salsa. All the recipes are clear, straight­for­ward and easy to make and there are fur­ther chapters on sal­mon, auber­gine, risotto, pesto, tapen­ade and green curry paste, amongst oth­ers. Every recipe includes advice on how to adjust ingredi­ents such as salt or chilli for babies and children.

This is a book that knows what it’s doing and knows who it’s aimed at. It’s inform­at­ive without being pat­ron­ising and it’s ima­gin­at­ive without being intim­id­at­ing. Shrewdly, Every­body Every­day doesn’t get dis­trac­ted by starters or puddings. I sus­pect though, that if the book is a suc­cess, which it cer­tainly deserves to be, Every­body Every­day: For Afters will surely be next in line.

Eat Your Veg by Arthur Potts Dawson

Pub­lished by Octopus May 2012

Price £25.00

Arthur Potts Dawson’s CV must have to be prin­ted in pamph­let form. He was trained by the Roux broth­ers, Row­ley Leigh and Pierre Koff­mann and went on to be head chef for Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray at The River Cafe, for the Soho House Group at Cecconi’s, for Jamie Oliver at Fif­teen and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cot­tage HQ. He foun­ded Lon­don eco-restaurants Acorn House and Water House for the Shored­itch Trust and has slung in a few tele­vi­sion pro­grammes for good meas­ure. And yet, to look at his pho­to­graph, you’d think he was still 17.

Eat Your Veg is my kind of cook­ery book. It’s not a manual about becom­ing a veget­arian; it simply makes veget­ables the star of the show. Roas­ted car­rots with caraway and chilli cream, beet­root soup with cumin and cori­ander, wine-braised artichokes stuffed with herbs and creamed gir­olles with grilled polenta are all recipes that read like poetry and taste like heaven. There are oddit­ies too, like roas­ted sweet potato with marsh­mal­lows and maple syrup or iced pea and mint lol­li­pops, that I haven’t tried yet. But as far as I’m con­cerned, if Arthur says some­thing works, then it works.

The only thing I’m not smit­ten by is the title. Eat Your Veg is just too stolidly pro­saic a name to encom­pass the poetry that’s going on inside the cov­ers. But, all things con­sidered, that’s a pretty small com­plaint. Eat Your Veg is inspir­ing, cre­at­ive and ori­ginal. If I was a veget­able I’d be say­ing to myself, “finally, someone’s giv­ing me the atten­tion I deserve.”

Wagner’s Crab

Food and wine pair­ing is achingly fash­ion­able at the moment. I’m afraid my know­ledge about which wine to pair with what food doesn’t extend bey­ond when to drink Chab­lis and why Caber­net Sauvignon doesn’t work with rhu­barb crumble. I am, how­ever, very good at food and per­form­ance pair­ing. In case you haven’t come across it, food and per­form­ance pair­ing is the art of what to eat after a trip to the theatre. To give you an idea:

The Cherry Orch­ard - bit­ter cherry cla­foutis and a litre of vodka.

Death of a Sales­man - hot­dog with a friend who feels a failure.

Wait­ing for Godot — a pic­nic of chicken and raw car­rots while wait­ing for an acquaint­ance who never turns up.

Titus Andronicus - noth­ing for a week.

I now know what to eat after a Wag­ner opera. Hav­ing just seen Wag­ner for the first time in the form of the Eng­lish National Opera’s pro­duc­tion of The Fly­ing Dutch­man, I’m proudly in the post-Wagnerian phase of my life. Orla Boylan’s inter­pret­a­tion of tra­gic Senta — intense, intro­ver­ted and slightly obsess­ive — is mes­mer­ising. She’s a mag­ni­fi­cent sop­rano who com­bines touch­ing sens­it­iv­ity with a deep, vis­ceral power.

At din­ner after the per­form­ance, there was some­thing on the res­taur­ant menu that seemed per­fect to fol­low such high and intense drama — crab. Not a prissy crab, dressed and piled softly back into the shell from whence it had come and piped with may­on­naise stripes. But an armour-plated Wag­n­erian crab that looked as though it had just clattered into the res­taur­ant, clambered onto the table and said “Ok — I dare you.” With crack­ers and probes, snip­pers and forks, it was a war of attri­tion to see who would win — the crab or me.

Orla is the best sop­rano to have at the din­ner table. Not only does she sing so beau­ti­fully that you want to weep, as a teen­ager she had a hol­i­day job boil­ing, crack­ing and dress­ing the crabs that her dad caught in pots. After the soar­ing per­form­ance of The Fly­ing Dutch­man, there was the impress­ive drama of watch­ing Orla do battle with the crab, hoi­k­ing out morsels of meat that the rest of us failed to find.

I watched The Fly­ing Dutch­man with a very clever friend who grows things almost as well as Orla sings things. My friend’s mag­ni­fi­cent garden is crammed with herbs that would make even a fish-finger fan want to cook.

Aniseed-flavoured sweet cicely over­flows in flouncy, lacy heaps, along with drifts of lovage, clouds of wild flowers, perky rhu­barb and things I’ve never heard of.

So, in hon­our of the mag­ni­fi­cent Orla Boylan — as well as The Fly­ing Dutch­man and my friend’s glor­i­ous garden — here is Wag­n­erian Crab Salad with Sweet Cicely and Wild Flowers along with a glass of Sweet Cicely and Cucum­ber Cock­tail. The crab isn’t the macho mon­ster that I did battle with after the opera. But just as you can’t watch a Wag­ner opera every day of the week, you can’t fight a crab every day either.

SWEET CICELY AND CUCUMBER COCKTAIL WITH A LOVAGE STRAW

  • 1 part Limoncino
  • 1 part gin
  • 5 parts lemonade
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Quarter of a cucum­ber, peeled
  • Ice cubes
  • A hand­ful of sweet cicely tender stems, to taste
  • Sweet cicely leaves to decorate
  • Lovage stalks, trimmed to make straws

Com­bine all the ingredi­ents, apart from the dec­or­at­ive leaves and lovage stalks, in a food pro­cessor. Puree to a liquid and pour into a glass. You can strain the liquid if you prefer. The stems of lovage are hol­low and make per­fect straws. They add the most deli­cious fla­vour of per­fumed cel­ery to any drink. Gar­nish the cock­tail with sweet cicely leaves and add a lovage straw.

WAGNERIAN CRAB SALAD WITH SWEET CICELY, WILD FLOWERS AND AVOCADO

Serves 2

  • 100g white crab meat
  • 1 avo­cado
  • 1 dessert spoon creme fraiche
  • A few chives plus the flowers
  • A few sweet cicely stems and leaves, chopped finely
  • Zest of 1 lemon plus a squirt of lemon juice
  • Season­ing
  • Viola flowers or any other edible flowers

Slice the avo­cado and divide between two plates. Com­bine the crab, creme fraiche, lemon juice and zest, season­ing, chopped chives and sweet cicely stems. Pile on top of the avo­cado and dec­or­ate with chive flowers and sweet cicely flowers.

Eat and drink the above after any Wag­ner opera. They go together perfectly.