Yoghurt Panna Cotta with Poached Rhubarb & Pistachio
inspired by The Other Naughty Piglet
23rd March 2021. A year since we first entered a national lockdown.
I remember feeling a sense of relief when the lockdown was finally announced. Watching the TV as Boris ordered us all to stay at home didn’t feel anywhere near as bad as the announcements we had dealt with the week before.
Monday 16th March was the worst. The day that theatres shut. Myself and everyone else who works in performing arts woke up in the morning feeling a little anxious, but getting on with our day as normal. By that evening all the work was postponed indefinitely across the whole sector. An entire industry of people now out of work. A pretty grim day at the office.
Monday was also the day Boris advised the public not to go to pubs and restaurants. Remember that? Businesses had to either decide to close for themselves, or go through an agonising four days of cancelled bookings, no shows and empty tables before the Government finally called time on hospitality.
At least now they had been forced to close they could claim on insurance. Or so everyone thought. Turned out it wasn’t that simple, and a year on many businesses have been unable to claim anything on their insurance.
The rest of the week before lockdown passed in a blur.
Trying to strike that balance between wanted to make sure we had food in the house, without it turning into stockpiling. Whilst others were flocking to supermarket shelves to stock up on loo roll and pasta, I was making a tour of my local corner shops. Making sure I had things like jarred olives, tinned anchovies and tomato puree. Anything I could think of that would help me add flavour to whatever other ingredients I could find to make a meal out of.
It’s hard to imagine why we all thought we would run out of food. I remember feeling especially anxious about garlic. I love garlic. Put it in almost everything. So I even bought a jar of pre chopped garlic. Just in case I couldn’t get my hands on the proper stuff.
Turns out that we never ran out of garlic. Or loo roll. Or anything really.
The pre chopped garlic was quickly discovered to be utterly disgusting and got thrown away.
Not only did we not run out of food, but a whole new way of buying food opened up to us. All those suppliers that usually sold directly to restaurants, now sold to the general public. Restaurants turned into shops and delis. Food producers cut out the middle man and sold produce straight from farms and factories.
And I, along with many many others, discovered the joys of shopping locally.
From corner shops and newsagents to independent delis, greengrocers and butchers. These businesses were a lifeline in those early days of lockdown when there was no point going to a supermarket. All you would find there was empty shelves and angry customers.
In many ways the past twelve months have been undeniably tough. Some of the hardest times that hospitality and entertainment industries have ever faced.
But as we start to ease out of lockdown, hopefully for the last time, it’s worth thinking about the positive changes we might have made to how we shop, how we eat and how we spend our time.
So I’m taking all my positives and looking forward to May. When we will see restaurants and theatres alike being able to welcome customers back indoors.
A day that will bring hope to many, especially The Other Naughty Piglet, which happens to be a restaurant situated inside a theatre. If ever there was a business that has felt the full force of the pandemic, this is it.
Their sister restaurant, The Naughty Piglet in Brixton, has been able to offer deli and takeaway services. Adapting to carry on serving their customers as best they can.
But for a restaurant inside a theatre, in the centre of London, there was little to do but wait.
So in honour of them, and all other hospitality businesses that haven’t been able to open at all over the past year, I’m cooking something from their menu.
Yoghurt Panna Cotta with Poached Rhubarb & Pistachios
Now I love panna cotta.
In fact, I’m a big fan of any set cream dessert. I’ve made both lemon possets and creme caramels before. But never a panna cotta.
Turns out making a panna cotta is simple.
I heat milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract until just boiling. Meanwhile I soak half a sachet of gelatine granules in some water until it forms a soft jelly-like paste. I remove the cream mix from the heat, stir in the gelatine and then whisk in Greek yoghurt.
Then it’s simply a question of patience. I left mine in the fridge overnight to ensure that they set.
The next day it’s time to poach some rhubarb to go with them. Using a tip from the Great British Chefs website I simply mix equal parts water and sugar together in a pan. Then I cut rhubarb into batons and add these to the pan. Gently heat until almost boiling and then remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
This creates rhubarb that has a lovely soft texture, but still keeps it’s shape. Plus you end up with a gorgeous rhubarb infused sugar syrup. I might have to try making some cocktails with it this weekend!
Now comes the hard part. Turning out the panna cottas. I flip the moulds upside down and pray.
So begins a process of tapping, wiggling and gently cajoling the puddings out of their moulds. Or not so gently as I start to loose patience.
But eventually they cam out. Not quite a smooth glossy dome. A little rough around the edges. But good enough.
The main thing is that they wobble. All good panna cottas should wobble on the plate.
Mine end up a little less set than I would hope for. I’ll add a smidge more gelatine next time.
But I think they are really delicious. The yoghurt makes it less sweet and the texture feels lighter than a traditional panna cotta. Really fresh with the rhubarb and a lovely crunch from some crushed pistachios that I’ve sprinkled on top.
I ask for Aidan’s verdict.
“Tastes like yoghurt”
“It would make a lovely breakfast” he adds, I assume to try and make me feel better about his previous comment.
So perhaps not a dessert for everyone. Or maybe it is? Thinking about it, there should be more dessert eaten for breakfast.
I can’t think of a better way than to start, and finish, the day with something that makes you smile.
But best of all would be to eat this at The Other Naughty Piglet when they reopen. With opening on the horizon for lots of businesses, let’s hope we are all back in our restaurants, and our theatres, soon.