Yoghurt panna cotta with caramelised figs and pistachio nuts
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I was at the beach the other day, standing next to a fig tree in the sun, and the smell was phenomenal. Increasingly, I am using young fig leaves in cooking, for the intense flavour they hold. This flavour can be infused into ice-cream and in this panna cotta could be a substitute for the vanilla, or an addition.
I like the green-skinned figs, with an almost jammy sweetness and texture. But that might just be because those are the kind growing on my tree.
Getting figs as ripe as possible is important, but can be problematic when they are on the other side of perfect, particularly for grilling. If they end up overripe, I cut the figs in half and lay them in a dish of sugar cut side down, while warming a non-stick pan. When the pan’s hot I transfer the figs – which have now soaked up some sweetness and been sealed by a layer of sugar – straight onto the hot surface. This prevents them getting stuck, as they would on a grill.
Cooked quickly at a relatively high temperature, the figs will have a caramelised, almost brûlée-like finish. Alternatively, if your kitchen is equipped with a small blowtorch, this will work infinitely better.
If this isn’t going to work, use the overripe fruit to make fig jam. To be honest, this is probably my favourite jam. I take a kilo of fruit, 900 grams of sugar and an inch of ginger. I cut the ginger into fine threads, tossing it with the sugar and diced figs in a saucepan and leaving the whole lot to macerate for a few hours. This is then cooked quickly on the stove until it reaches a jammy consistency. I test this by setting a spoonful out onto a cool plate and putting it in the fridge for a minute to gauge consistency.
One of the skills of making jam is knowing when to stop. Because the sugar content is so high here, the jam will set solid if it is cooked too long.
The same is true of panna cotta. Too much gelatine will give you a milk chew; too little and the texture is only a bit further than cream. There are various and creepy descriptions for the soft and giving texture that a good panna cotta should have. The key is getting the gelatine-to-milk ratio correct.
– 4 leaves gold-strength gelatine
– 250ml milk
– 400ml pouring cream
– 130g castor sugar
– ½ tsp vanilla extract
– 280g plain yoghurt
– 4-6 ripe figs
– 2 tbsp castor sugar
– 1 tbsp chopped pistachio nuts
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water and leave to soften.
In a saucepan, heat the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla over a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Don’t let the mixture boil.
Squeeze the excess water from the gelatine sheets and add them to the hot cream mixture.
Stir over a low heat until the gelatine dissolves, then remove the pan from the heat.
Put the yoghurt in a bowl and whisk it a little to break up any lumps. Pour the milk mixture through a fine sieve into the yoghurt and stir until the two are thoroughly combined.
Pour the panna cotta into moulds of your choice – 1 larger bowl or 8 smaller dariole moulds will work equally well.
Chill the panna cotta in the fridge until set.
Just before serving, slice your figs in half and sprinkle their cut sides generously with castor sugar. Using a blowtorch or a very hot grill, caramelise the sugar on the figs.
To serve, dip the panna cotta mould in a bowl of very hot water for a few seconds to soften the surface and release its grip on the mould. If you have used a bowl, invert the serving plate over the top of the panna cotta and flip the whole thing over so the panna cotta eases out onto the plate.
Place the caramelised figs next to the panna cotta and sprinkle both with the chopped pistachio nuts.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 23, 2016 as "Welcome back, cotta".
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