Romance is in the air & Valentines day is just around the corner. Not usually one’s to make much of a fuss on the day (we usually just buy each other an obscenely rude card) but, it is another excuse to indulge a little, so we do usually celebrate with good food… a slap up meal, a beautiful dish or an indulgent dessert, so long as food is involved.
Good food doesn’t have to be fancy though, as quite often the best foods are actually rather simple. You don’t need to spend a small fortune on prime cuts or fancy ingredients that you’ll probably never end up using again, & you don’t have to be slaving away at the oven for hours on end to produce some damn good, romantic food to two (or one, I’ve made myself valentines treats before now).
I’m usually on dessert duties when it comes to Valentines day (no surprises there) & whilst I can’t deny that I love a theme, whenever I’m making dessert for the two of us, I like to keep things simple (usually because Valentines falls on a working day & I have limited time to fuss in the kitchen). When it comes to simple but delicious food, you can’t go too wrong with looking to Italian cuisine, my favourite place on earth.
In Italian cooking, simplicity rules. Simple ingredients are put together in such a way to bring out the best in each. Desserts aren’t too dissimilar either gelato, tiramisu, zabaione & panna cotta each have very few & similar ingredients but produce such rich, creamy, delicious desserts. Panna cotta is amongst my favourite desserts (only bested by a good tiramisu), a very basic dessert simply made from sweetened milk & cream thickened with gelatine, in Italian the name ‘panna cotta’ literally means ‘cooked cream’.
It’s thought to have originated in the northern Piedmont region of Italy, although it’s a little unclear with panna cotta not mentioned in Italian cookbooks before the 1960’s. Not only is this a favourite of mine because I adore the custardy flavour & texture but even more so because it’s so quick & easy to make! It’s practically foolproof to make a decent panna cotta & it can be made in advance, perfect for a fuss free valentines meal. Being to simple means that it’s also highly adaptable for flavourings. For mine, I’ve opted for some vibrant, seasonal forced rhubarb. It makes for a wonderfully (on theme) pink rhubarb panna cotta, adding a nice little British twist on this Italian classic.
RHUBARB PANNA COTTA
(makes 4 small or 2 large puddings)
For the rhubarb:
- 180g rhubarb
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 3 tbsp orange juice
For the panna cotta:
- 3 gelatine leaves
- 250ml whole milk
- 200ml double cream
- 60g caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod or 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- Begin by roasting the rhubarb; cut the rhubarb into thumb-sized pieces & place in a roasting dish along with the caster sugar & orange juice
- Give everything a toss to coat all of the rhubarb before roasting in the oven at 180C for 8-10 minutes, until the rhubarb is just tender, then set aside to cool a little
- Once cooled, reserve 20g of the rhubarb & a little of the roasting juices for topping the pudding later & place the rest into a food processor to use a hand blender to blitz the rhubarb into a puree
- Place the gelatine leaves in a large bowl & cover with water before leaving to soak for 5-10 minutes
- Whilst the gelatine soaks, place the milk, cream, caster sugar into a large saucepan
- Split the vanilla pod & use a knife to scrape the seeds out of the pod & add these to the pan
- Gently heat everything together until the sugar has dissolved
- Add the rhubarb puree to the pan & mix well together
- Finally, remove the gelatine leaves from their bowl & use your hands to squeeze out any excess water from them
- Remove the pan from the heat & add the gelatine leaves, stir until completely dissolved
- Carefully pour the mixture into 4 pudding basins & place in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours
- To serve, briefly place the bottom of each pudding basin into a bowl of boiling water then slide a blunt knife or palette knife around the edges
- Turn out the panna cotta onto their serving dishes & spoon over a little of the reserved rhubarb & juices to serve