Anger was the motivation behind this dish. A passing comment from a waitress after service and an offhand remark from the Sous Chef about the quality of the current dessert (which for the record is not of my design) was enough to send me into a "fuck-you-I'll-show-you-better!" mood. Sunday night saw me storming straight out the door and down Oxford St to Coles in World Square.
The original idea that popped into my head while crossing Pitt St was peach panna cotta with mandarin tea (an infusion made with mandarin peels), slices of peach and pistachios. However the acidity present in the peaches was enough to curdle the milk which I had attempted to cook the fruit with. I tried folding peach puree through the mix at a later stage but the flavour didn't carry well so I abandoned the idea and switched to classic vanilla.
Mandarins were simply unavailable so I took a risk on rosehip tea (an organic brand infused with ginger and lemongrass) which I sweetened with small spoonfuls of honey until it was just right.
I suppose in a round about sort of way, you could say that this dessert is based on a popular Chinese item: almond milk jelly which is often served with a cocktail of fruit pieces, only instead of almonds I used pistachios and placed them on the side as a sweet garnish. Rosehip tea adds a unique floral note which works surprisingly well but if you don't have any on hand, a jasmine or green tea can be used.
The panna cotta (albeit a healthier modern version containing no cream whatsoever) is the hero here and care must be taken not to let the milk reduce or the result will be a rubbery jello. The sidekick peaches are not infallible even in their simplicity, so make sure you pick only the sweetest and most luscious of fruit to sit alongside the panna cotta.
There's no trick with the nuts but don't try to rush it, just go nice and slow so that the pistachios have time to cook in the syrup. Keep stirring it over a gentle medium heat. You don't want them to get any colour and as soon as the syrup dries, remove the nuts onto a silpat mat and press them apart with the back of a wooden spoon. They won't look like they're crystallising in the pan but you'll see it as soon as they begin to cool.
Vanilla Milk Panna Cotta
360 g milkBring milk, vanilla, salt and sugar to the boil.
1 vanilla pod, seeds only
2 g salt
56 g castor sugar
3 gelatine sheets (gold strength)
Place gelatine sheets in cold water to 'bloom' until soft.
Squeeze out excess water and stir into milk to dissolve.
Cool until room temperature.
Pour into moulds greased with vegetable oil and refrigerate for a few hours until set.
260 g boiling waterCombine all ingredients and allow to infuse until cool.
12 g honey
1 g organic rosehip tea
Strain and refrigerate.
50 g rosehip teaSimmer all ingredients in a small pot, stirring continuously for 5-10 mins until the syrup crystallises without colouring.
50 g castor sugar
50 g pistachios
Spread nuts onto a silpat and separate with a spoon.
Cool at room temperature.
Store in an airtight container.