Sometimes, when it comes to cooking, we should all steer well clear of unnecessary indulgent and ornate decoration, or whacky ideas of any kind. A pie should be a pie, a tart should be a tart and gravy should be gravy. Not jus. Begone with all your foams, textures, gels and general smoke and mirrors I say. And don’t mess with my chips. Leave them chips alone. Ah...leave them alone I said.
Saying that, it is good fun to mess around in the kitchen sometimes. And with this recipe, there is definitely an element of tomfoolery going on; with mentions of strawberry dust, lemon thyme and ye gads, cucumber panna cotta. A bunch of Italians may well be falling over themselves at this suggestion, but by and large they are quite receptive to new concepts and so should you.
If I were to give a source of inspiration for this dessert, I suppose it would have to be Masterchef: The Professionals because all manner of deconstruction and invention goes on on that show. In the last series, many chefs served up plates featuring just a single ingredient but broken down into different forms and components. The humble panna cotta was regurgitated so many different times, I did wonder if the judges were thoroughly sick of them by the end. And honeycomb was everywhere, crumbly and sweet and paired next to things like lamb cutlets for instance. Yes, honeycomb and lamb was touted as the next big thing. Strewth! So in a way, this dessert does plug into a certain cheffy zeitgeist, if anything else.
But coming back to real food for a second here, with hand on heart, all the flavours and *gulp* textures do work rather well here. The grassy note of the cucumber balances with the cream and both act as a foil to the tartness of the strawberry jelly. The light scattering of strawberry dust, namely dehydrated strawberries, finely chopped, give an intense hit of summer here and there. The fresh strawberries, lightly macerated in sugar, and the crunchy rocks of bubbled, caramel; tie in the sweet element of this pud very nicely indeed. And even the lemon thyme leaves serve to punctuate little burst of citrus on the palate. Though I have to admit, I only threw them on there at first to add a touch of green, to the overwhelming scarlett.
This is a slightly tricksy and time consuming dish to turn around, most certainly. But I think it pays to push the boat out once and serve up something different once in awhile. Because once you’ve stuck cucumber into a panna cotta, the world really is your oyster.
P.S I wouldn’t advise putting oysters into panna cottas though.