Saturday, February 4, 2012

Peach, plonk and pomegranate pannacotta

Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 1 February 2012

With the Christmas frenzy behind us, I find myself sucked into the vortex of the New Year, vaguely wondering what happened to that restful and restorative time I had so looked forward to. Now, with normal service resumed, it seems I really didn’t slow down at all and that last year’s craziness just rolled on through.  

Was it with a kind of inverted sixth sense that I wished friends and family a peaceful and restful time in the flock of seasonal cards I dispatched in the weeks before December 25th? Perhaps I sensed what I was getting myself into and subconsciously hoped that the wishes I directed to them would come back to me too.

The Christmas food preparation that occurred in my kitchen over that intense and frenetic period of time reminds me of a silent movie. People stagger in and out of the kitchen at double time, preparing and dispatching food in exaggerated quantities, only to return seconds later with stacks of empty dishes.  This process starts all over again immediately, like La Grande Bouffe on fast forward. The rolling assembly line felt like it went on for weeks, but in reality only lasted 6 days.

Despite all my gripes and ensuing exhaustion, the great thing about this frenzied time was lots of interesting food combinations went out, some worked and some didn’t, but they all provided food for thought.

Back before the masses descended, I shopped on an industrial scale to prepare for the onslaught of hungry visitors. Eliminating the slightest risk of anybody starving while on our watch was my strategic objective. The equally staggering  amount of food that people brought with them was not factored into the plan.

So, when it’s time to say goodbye and the caravan slowly rolls down the road, I find myself waving them off with a mince tart in one hand and a chocolate Santa in the other. With a huge sigh of relief, I go back inside to return the house to some semblance of order, open the fridge and a cluster of rum balls tumbles out, cascading off the stacks of leftover ham, slow cooked pork, lamb & ribs, the “spare” vat of creamy baked potatoes, the three rustic Italian loaves and the cranberry and coconut Christmas pud. They inevitably roll into every inaccessible corner of the kitchen.  I stand there among the disaster of chocolate and coconut, staring at the blinking Christmas tree, Bing still crooning smugly from the stereo, buried somewhere under tinsel and crumpled wrapping paper.

Just for a change of pace, we invited more people over to help us eat through the mountain of foods. While thinking about dessert and some inventive ways to use up leftover ingredients, especially the cartons of cream that I didn’t want to waste, I remembered a cool sweet made for me by a friend on one of those seemingly rare hot Canberra days.

The criteria it needed to meet included: must use leftover fruit; can be prepared in advance; can be stored in the refrigerator (the bulging freezer was not an available option); must look smart. 

This gem satisfies on all fronts and looks sensational, bringing gasps of rapture from all assembled.

This is my version of the perfect peach, plonk and pomegranate pannacotta. Don’t be scared of making this dish, working with gelatine is very easy and will impress people for sure with its looks and taste. My tip for this dish is that when unmoulding the pannacotta, only leave it sitting in the warm water for 1 minute and if it still holds on tightly, leave it sit for an extra minute out of the water.

My version served about 10 people, you only need a small slice as it’s quite rich.

Fruit Jelly Top
1 cup water
1 cup pink sparkling wine
½ cup sugar
3 or 4 peaches, halved and stoned
1 tbsp powdered gelatine
Juice from 1 pomegranate

¼ cup water
2 tbsp powdered gelatine
4 cups of pure cream
1 tspn of vanilla paste
¾ cup of icing sugar, sifted
pomegranate seeds to serve

Fruit Jelly Top
Pour the water, sparkling wine and sugar for the Fruit Jelly top into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. When the sugar has dissolved add the peaches and simmer for 4 minutes or until they are tender. Carefully remove the peaches without damaging them and reserve the poaching water. Remove the skins from the peaches and set aside.

Place a half a cup of the poaching water into a wide mouthed bowl. Sprinkle over the 1 tbsp of gelatine and set aside for a full 5 minutes to allow the gelatine to swell. Add the gelatine mixture to the remaining liquid in the saucepan and stir through. Simmer for 2 minutes until dissolved and remove from the heat.

Into a well-greased 28cm x 8cm terrine or loaf pan, place the skinned peach halves, cut side up and pour over the gelatine mixture.  Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Test by shaking.

Place the water into a wide mouthed bowl and sprinkle the 2 tbsp of gelatine over the top of the water. Leave to swell for a full five minutes. 

Place the cream, icing sugar and vanilla into a saucepan over medium heat and stir. Add the gelatine mixture and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes until dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature and remove the skin that forms on the top of the cream and stir.

Pour the cooled cream mixture over the set jelly and refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours. When ready to serve, dip the terrine into a roasting dish of warm water for about 1 minute, taking care not to spill any water onto the pannacotta. Turn upside down onto a serving plate and serve with jewel like pomegranate seeds.

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