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.