Well, I was. My house plants may have died,and my skin might have spent most of the summer bearing more resemblance to a corpulent whisky fiend , but I can honestly say that I loved it. All of it- the sweaty, sleepless nights, the long, hot days, and finally! The idea that, for once, we'd experienced a season easily discernible as summer. So when the colder, darker, altogether more miserable days start to draw in, I get a bit grumpy. Don't get me wrong- I bloody love Christmas. If it weren't for my infinitely more practical (read: spoilsport) husband, I'd have the tree up by mid-November. It's just the awkward, in-betweeny period I detest, where you're not sure whether tights are OK, and after ten minutes on the tube in a coat you feel just about ready to die. In fact, the only thing that really cheers me up is the food. Now there's a surprise ;)
The heavy stews, the richer soups, and the gnarly vegetables all make me think that autumn probably does serve a purpose after all. And my favourite of the bunch? Blackberries.They bridge the gap between summer days, and the first festive frosts of November (after which point I stop feeling miserable, because I'm in full Christmas swing... the cat's been forced into Yuletide head gear, and I'm wearing ridiculous knitwear again). Nothing really beats the unadulterated purity of a naked berry, but when you spend four months gorging on the things, it's nice to do something a bit more interesting with them eventually. Like this:
Blackberry, Cardamom & Tequila Panna Cottas
(You can make these as seasonal as you like by swapping the fruit, and trading the alcohol with whatever comes to hand. You could leave it out entirely, but where's the fun in that...?)
What You Need:
- 325ml full-fat milk
- 400ml double cream
- 75g caster sugar
- 2 vanilla pods, or good quality vanilla bean paste, which can be more economical given that vanilla pods seem to be astronomical these days. I use Taylor and Colledge, where one teaspoon of the paste is one whole vanilla bean. I daresay other products vary.
- 10g of leaf gelatine (approximately 6 sheets)
- 25ml decent quality white tequila. Not because it matters especially, just because life's too short to drink bad tequila- and there will be an awful lot left to drink.
- 250g Blackberries. I think it goes without saying that they should be British ones.
- 3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed.
What You Do:
1. Grab a medium-sized heavy-based pan, and pour in the milk, double cream, 50g of the caster sugar and your vanilla seeds (scraped from the pods) or paste. Place on a medium to high heat until JUST before it reaches boiling point, then turn off. Do not get distracted by your husband asking where his football kit is hiding, wander off for a few minutes and return to a half empty pan and a hob covered in burnt milk. Just saying.
|I'm cream. I'm a bastard to get off a hob.|
2. Soften your gelatine leaves in cold water for about five minutes, unsticking them from one another if need be. Squeeze out the water, and stir into your cream mixture.
3. Fill a large mixing bowl with iced water, and transfer your cream into something that will sit comfortably in it without a) filling with aforementioned iced water, or b) floating on to its side and spilling everything. A jug with a handle that can hook over the edge is ideal, but just improvise. Cool your liquid for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
4.Pour into six fancy glasses. I like the dinky little Duralex affairs, personally. Leave a gap at the top (about two centimetres), and stick in the fridge to set. Overnight is ideal, but I've been known to finish these off in a blind panic at 3pm, in time for a dinner evening for 16 at 7.30. If they were shit, then everyone was polite enough not to mention it to me. But either way, leave a few hours- 5-6 at the least.
|Pipe and cigar not required|
5.Place your blackberries into a pan with the tequila, cardamom pods and last of the caster sugar. On a very low heat, poach the fruit until softened (but still a loose blackberry shape), and taste. It should be tart enough to cut through the richness of the cream, but not stroke-inducing. Cool in the fridge for an hour or so.
To serve, spoon your fruit mixture haphazardly over the set panna cottas. Try to remove the cardamom pods beforehand, though. They're not great for chewing on. If you have time, knock up a few shortbread thins on the side. If you don't, then just have them alone- they taste good enough.