Panna cotta two ways for two special occasions
As a non-Muslim living in the United Arab Emirates, Ramadan has little direct effect on me. The roads seem quieter (except just before sun down) it’s a little more difficult to get a coffee in the daytime, a picnic on the beach is not a good idea – but all these things are minor changes to everyday life. A tourist might visit Dubai during the Holy Month and not realise that anything is different. However, having lived here for over 12 years, I’ve grown to welcome the holy month of Ramadan, being in the midst of a nation immersed in an intense month of prayer, reflection and ritual. The city seems calmer, more contemplative, the call to prayer, a backdrop to my daily life, becomes more vivid and poignant and the diners sharing a communal Iftar seated in rows outside mosques after sunset is the public face of a great deal more private charitable generosity. Through friends I’ve learned what Ramadan means to them, their own individual relationship with fasting and how they break it. Having abstained from eating all day the first tastes of foods are savoured. A date is often the first thing that is eaten to restore sugar, along with a drink of water. Family meals are savoured, it’s a time for sharing with friends, with special care being taken to choose intense flavours and textures.
I’m having a fantastic time in the UK with my family at the moment but it feels strange to be away for Ramadan. Some wonderful posts by some of Fooderati Arabia connect me. Awesome chef Dima Sharif is creating an inspiring recipe a day. Holly shared a touching account of suhoor through the years in her family. Reminiscences of Ramadan past by Platetrotter gives another non-Muslim perspective. I also return to an account of breaking the fast in the United Arab Emirates written by one of my favourite writers about Middle Eastern cuisine, Anissa Helou.
My small contribution is to create a special dessert. I’ve made my favourite panna cotta and added flavours from the region, cardamom and rosewater. I’ve left out the cream to make a lighter texture – it should probably be called milk jelly – however you can replace some of all of the milk with cream if you want a richer taste.
Welcome, if you are visiting My Custard Pie for the first time via Noor Dubai TV or Dubai One. I spent a really enjoyable few hours with Reem as she filmed me making this dessert in my kitchen (her pics are above). The results of her filming are stunning – clever lady.
At this time of reflection, I’m also thinking about Barbara Harris. Barbara was one of the first people I ‘met’ on Twitter and I was instantly drawn to her open, friendly communication and easy-going style of writing on her blog Winos and Foodies. I was aware that she was receiving on-going cancer treatment but there was never a hint of ‘poor me’ from Barbara. Her Livestrong with a touch of yellow event, where bloggers had to make a dish that was yellow in the shape of a heart, was something I joined in with and one of the first boards I made on Pinterest in its early days, was with everyone’s entries. When I read Barbara’s last post on her blog on the 1st June – an entry for In My Kitchen on Fig Jam and Lime Cordial – there was no hint that she would live for only a few weeks more. She died on 29th June. As a tribute to Barbara’s memory, Jeanne and Meeta have decided that this month’s Monthly Mingle event will be dedicated to Barbara’s memory, and that the theme will be A Taste of Yellow. I made a saffron-based variation of my panna cotta recipe to honour this very special lady.
Cardamom panna cotta with rosewater syrup
Ingredients – panna cotta
1 ½ tablespoons powdered gelatine*
3 tablespoons water
350 ml milk and 350 ml cream or 700 ml milk**
10 cardamom pods
105g cardamom caster sugar (or plain caster sugar)
½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)
Ingredients – syrup
175 ml water
110g caster sugar
1-2 teaspoons rosewater
*leaf gelatine gives a superior texture and ‘wobble’ but rarely available in the UAE (in the not for Muslims section)
**you can use all milk or up to 80% cream to 20% milk
Put the gelatine and water in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the gelatine has dissolved. Add the milk, the cardamom pods and cardamom sugar and keep over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time until the sugar has dissolved and the flavours infused. Strain into a jug to remove the pods, stir in the vanilla extract and pour into 6 ramekin dishes or small glasses. Leave to cool then put in the fridge for at least 4 hours (or overnight).
Heat the remaining water and sugar in a saucepan and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then raise the heat and simmer for about 3 – 4 minutes (do not let it brown). Allow to cool slightly, add the rosewater (if it is not pink enough you can add a tiny drop of pink food colouring or rose cordial) and leave to cool.
When ready to serve, dip each dish into a bowl of hot water for a few seconds, run a small knife around the edge of the ramekins to loosen the panna cotta and turn out onto dessert plates or you can serve in the glasses garnished with a rose petal (ensure this is pesticide free). I used a frangipani from my garden. Drizzle with the rosewater syrup.
Vanilla panna cotta with lemon-saffron syrup
Make the panna cotta as above but replace the cardamom pods with a vanilla pod. Use a higher proportion of cream to milk (approx 575 ml cream). For the syrup, use the juice of half a lemon and top up to 175ml with water. Add a generous pinch of saffron threads. Omit the rosewater.
You could poach some fruit such as slices of peaches, nectarines or apricots in the saffron syrup too. A delicious alternative would be lime and saffron syrup with slices of mango added at the end.
For more on panna cotta, there is an interesting article by Emily Angle on the BBC food blog