Panna Cotta with Blackberry Compote

panna cotta

Wow, a week has passed and I haven’t updated. My bad. It’s not that I wasn’t cooking, truth be told, I’m actually back in Hong Kong over the holidays and there’s a lot of cooking, eating and catch ups to be had. But this post isn’t about my blogging tardiness, it’s about this delectable panna cotta I made as the finishing touch to a meal I cooked for my friend. Deserts are always I bit of a hard one I find. I tend to always eat a bit of fruit normally, but after an indulgent meal sometimes you crave something a little more. This is a dainty light panna cotta with a sweet yet satisfyingly sharp compote to balance out those flavours. I’ve cheated a bit, in that the panna cotta isn’t set then turned out of a ramekin, but how pretty does this look? Plus, Polpo does it this way, so it can’t be all bad. This makes 3-4 little tumblers worth of pudding.

Panna Cotta with Blackberry Compote:
190 ml full fat milk
200 ml double cream
40 g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
4 g leaf gelatin
1 tbsp of grappa or grape juice
About 125 g of blackberries with extra to serve

Put a heavy based pan onto the stove. Into this, add your milk, double cream,  35 g of caster sugar and the seeds scraped out of your vanilla pod. Just before it all comes to boiling point, remove it from the heat.

Get some icy water into a container and soften your gelatine leaves for about 5 minutes. Squeeze out the water (playing with gelatine at this stage is quite tactile and fun!) and add this to your creamy mixture along with your grappa.

Pour your creamy liquid into a glass bowl over some ice and let it slowly cool. Give it a stir every so often to disperse the vanilla pod seeds. Once the seeds start to suspend themselves in the creaminess, about an hour later, your mixture is ready. Decant into some tumblers and chill them in the fridge. They are even better if left overnight, but I was happy with 8 hours of chilling.

Now make your compote. Put your 125 g worth of blackberries into a large saucepan with around 25 ml of water and the remaining caster sugar. On a very low heat, poach those berries until they soften and start to lose their shape. At this point you want to access how you like your compote. I mashed half of the softened berries and added a tiny bit more sugar and water. I would recommend that you don’t make it too sweet though, because you want something to counter the sweet creaminess of the panna cotta. But you know. Do it to taste.

When you are ready to serve, add a generous helping of compote to your little panna cotta tumblers and add a couple of fresh blackberries for some variation. Yum yum yum. Oh! It’s new year’s eve today as well so I hope you all have a blast partying around the world tonight. Bring on 2013!

Roast Duck Ragu with Polenta

duck and polentaI had a friend over for dinner. It was sort of a long overdue dinner offering that happened to also coincide with me finishing a bunch of DIY in my mini kitchen. It was a delicious little feast, and for the first time in ages, I cooked meat. So here it is, the first official meaty post in my nascent food blog.

The tomato sauce base of this has already been posted so you’ll want to make a batch of that tasty goodness. This will feed two.

Duck Ragu Ingredients:
150 g cherry tomatoes - halved
Flaky sea salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
2 good sized duck legs
750 ml tomato sauce
Handful of good black olives - stoned
Small handful of chopped parsley to serve

Oven to 180°C. On a lined baking tray: season your halved cherry tomatoes, splash ’em a bit with some olive oil and roast them for about half an hour until they blister and practically collapse. Remove and set aside.

Now get your oven to 240°C. Take your duck legs and season them with some salt and pepper. Roast them on until the skin is lovely and crispy (10-15 mins, maybe). When all crispy, lower that oven’s temperature to 200°C and roast these bad boys for about an hour until they’re tender. When done, set them aside and save the cooking juices and meat drippings for later.

When the duck is cool enough to handle. Remove the skin (and eat it! Haha, that’s what we did) and pick off the meat. Roughly chop the larger bits so you get nice sized bits of meat. Set aside.

Get a large pot on the stove and at medium heat, now heat up your tomato sauce. Add olives, some black pepper and all the dripping and cooking juices from the duck. Bring the sauce to a simmer for 30 minutes or thereabouts until it is very thick. Ragu gloopy thick. Add the duck legs and cook this for a further 10 minutes. Just before you’re about to serve your ragu, stir in the roasted tomatoes and toss in some chopped parsley.

I served this with soft polenta. I am always making up my polenta to taste and by eye. But this is kinda what you need:

Soft Polenta Ingredients:
Polenta flour
Some sort of cheese - I went parmesan
Salt & Pepper
Unsalted butter

In a heavy bottomed pan, get some water to a boil. You’ll want to think of proportions of food to serving amounts I suppose. So a cup and a half of water per person. Get a whisk and vigorously whisk that water in one direction only, this stops the polenta from getting lumpy. Now carefully add your polenta flour a handful at a time while whisking. This stuff cooks and expands fast, and before you know it, you’re polenta’s too thick and you’ll need to add more water and end up with way too much polenta (which isn’t a bad thing, pour leftovers into trays and griddle the firmer polenta cakes the next day…I bloody love polenta)…anyway, one handful at a time. When it’s at the consistency that you like, add a load of cheese in to taste and season. Serve up with a blob of unsalted butter.

I also served the ragu with a side of griddled asparagus. You really don’t need to do much with these. Bend and snap off the chewy parts of the asparagus spears. Hot griddle pan. Splash of olive oil. Griddle them. Serve with sea salt and freshly squeezed lemon. You can serve these with shavings of parmesan as well, but with all the cheese in the polenta, I didn’t want to over parmesan the dishes out.

grilled asparagus

Seafood, Fennel and Lime Salad

This is a straight up Ottolenghi recipe that I’ve followed almost to the letter. More herbs more lime more prawns. But it’s *basically* to the letter. It’s not often I follow a recipe so closely, but it’s so reliant on fresh flavours that you really can’t go wrong. I cooked this for a friend recently and had to buy clean and prepare baby squid for the first time. Exciting stuff. I’ve adjusted it so it’s a starter that feeds 2. Oh! And before I go into a bit of a rant. Get proper big and raw tiger prawns. And by tiger prawns, I mean proper prawns, not pre cooked tiny little shrimps. There is a big difference between prawns and shrimp. The end.

Seafood, Fennel and Lime Salad:
1 small fennel bulb - thinly sliced
1/2 a small red onion - thinly sliced
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 garlic clove - crushed
1 tbsp fresh dill - chopped
1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley - chopped
1 mild chilli - de-seeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
6 tiger prawns, peeled and de-veined
170 g cleaned baby squid
1 tbsp sumac
2 tbsp chopped coriander
Sea salt
Pomegranate seeds to garnish

Top and tail the fennel and slice it widthwise super thinly through a mandolin into a large bowl. Thinly slice your red onion and toss them in. Whack in the lime zest, juice, garlic, parsley, chilli, one tablespoon of olive oil and a good pinch of salt. Mix it all up. Set aside.

Get a griddle pan on the stove and get it smoking hot. Mix the prawns and squid in a bowl with the other tablespoon of oil and a pitch of salt. Grill these in small batches and turn them over once. The squid should take 1-2 mins each side and the prawns 2-3 mins. You want the nice grill lines so don’t move them around in the pan.

Once they’re done, slice up the squid and toss the seafood in with your salad. You can serve this warm or a leave it in the fridge for up to 1 day. When serving, sprinkle over your sumac and coriander, taste, adjust seasoning, maybe squeeze more lime, and liberally garnish with the pomegranate seeds. EAT.

Incidentally, cleaning squid is quite fun. Carefully pull out the tentacles. Chop off the eyes and beak. Remove the flat soft bone from the hood(?) and rinse out any bits inside that. I found sacks of eggs in a couple of mine. This made me fleetingly sad for a moment, before I remembered how tasty grilled squid was.

squid prep

Mini Caprese Stacks

I made these recently as part of a four course meal. Look! It’s a Caprese salad in bite sized form! Not only are they super easy to make, but they’re also perfect little morsels to kick start a meal. Antipasto. You clever Italians you. The only thing you need to get right for this is amazing ingredients, so go for the best tomatoes and cheese you can get your grubby little mitts on. I went with piccolos and an organic mozzarella.

Mini Caprese Stacks:
Cherry tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
black pepper

Carefully shave the top and tail of each cherry tomato before you halve them, this gives them a flat base to sit on so they stand properly. Trim the stem off the end of each basil leaf. Arrange your tomatoes on a plate, add a leaf, rip a bit of cheese. Leaf. Cheese. Leaf. Cheese. Leaf. Cheese. Drizzle with a bit of oil. Bit of salt and black pepper. Done.

Basic Tomato Sauce

I go to Polpo. A lot. I like the chilled atmosphere and nice little martini bar downstairs. I love their little sharable dishes and tiny tumblers to drink wine and espressos out of…but mostly I like the small proportions because I get to eat more things. Anyway, they have a cookbook now and as well as giving away their secrets, it’s beautifully bound, filled with great pics and is fun to read. They have a good Basic Tomato Sauce recipe in it. Do you by a bottle of tomato sauce for your pasta? Why do you do that? This is much, much nicer. I’ve reduced the final amount, added booze, and more spices to this. But that’s what a good basic recipe should be: adaptable. Make this on a lazy Sunday and enjoy it throughout the week. Makes just under a litre.

Basic Tomato Sauce:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion - finely chopped
1 garlic clove - crushed
1/2 tbsp salt - scant
A good cracking of black pepper
1 small red chilli - deseeded and finely chopped
A pinch of chilli flakes
375g fresh tomatoes - really ripe and sweet
1.5 tins/cartons of crushed  tomato - about 600g
1 small handful of oregano - fresh or 1 tbsp dried
1 bay leaf
A good glug of red wine
A bit of sugar - if you want, I didn't add this

Sauce pan on stove at medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil. When at heat add your garlic, onion, chilli (fresh and dried), bay leaf, black pepper and dried oregano if you’re not using fresh. Stir and sweat ’em out. When the onions are glossy and translucent, get your fresh tomatoes in with the other tablespoon of oil. Cook for 15 mins.

Now add the crushed tomatoes and glug that wine in. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, lid on, leave for an hour. In the final moments, if you’re using fresh oregano (I mean, how hard is this stuff to find? Grow some in a kitchen pot for a constant supply), roughly chop it up and stir it all in. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Add a bit of sugar if your tomatoes aren’t sweet enough.

Pan off heat. Transfer into a blender or use a stick blender to whiz it all up. Done! You can strain this mixture further and add a bit more water to make a pasata if you fancy it.

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