The alluring culinary dichotomy of sour and sweet is present in numerous fruits but enjoys arguably its prettiest expression in the vivid magenta blush of roasted rhubarb. And there’s nothing like adding a creamy, fat element to this – a tri-chotomy? I’m sorry! I know words have meaning! – to truly enhance its colour and flavour, like wearing an enormous fluffy coat with a tiny slip dress: there’s contrast and balance.
Now, you’d think my lack of object permanence would cause a container of roasted rhubarb to languish in the fridge, entirely forgotten before I’d even closed the door, but fortunately for all involved a secondary function of my brain kicked into gear, where I commence a random and often barely relevant task as if by automatism and wake up halfway through; in this case the morning after roasting the rhubarb I found myself, entirely without thinking, making a pink variation of the passionfruit panna cotta I rapturised about back in March.
This is a delightful way to come up with new recipes – by taking an existing recipe I love and sliding in a new ingredient, mad-libs style. There is obviously no points system at play here but if there were I would give bonus credit to any such recipe where a half-assed, barely-thought-out replacement ingredient proved so deliciously perfect that at the very last minute I decided to blog about it. But subconsciously I must have known I was onto a winner because I divided most of the mixture between four glasses with a little extra in a fifth glass as a “tester” – surely the actions of a person who suspected they’d want to make sure the recipe worked so they could photograph the remaining desserts in an attractive tableau before the intermittent winter sunlight faded altogether. Also, I took videos of the cooking process for a TikTok which really makes it sound like this was all planned in advance but again: I can’t stress enough how many things I do without thinking! It’s possible! It’s horribly annoying! It’s rarely anything useful! Not once have I zoned in on myself industriously tidying my room or paying bills.
Anyway, all I was trying to say before getting quagmired in the psychological journey is that I guess I knew this was going to be delicious but I was not prepared for just how exquisite it would taste! So let’s finally get to the important part: what does this rhubarb panna cotta taste like? I could and unfortunately will say things like “sherbet cloud” and “nights in pink satin” but to be more specific, the perfumed, green apple-raspberry vibes of the rhubarb become even more pronounced when roasted and cooled; this softened fruit near-on dissolves in the cream leaving nothing but tiny threads interrupting the otherwise plush smoothness, and each thread carries within it a tiny fizzy burst of candy sourness met but not dulled by the modest quantity of sugar. Draping it with more roasted rhubarb stops it from being too mellow and importantly, adds another shade of pink: we eat with our eyes and the sheer aesthetic power of this panna cotta leaves you full up before you can blink.
I’m not sure if that accurately describes them or if I’ve ended up moving even further away from my point but the point is: these panna cotta taste incredible and you should make them today. And if you can’t get hold of rhubarb? Try the passionfruit version! There’s a sour-sweet dessert for all seasons! Also, I looked up the word ‘trichotomy’ and it’s actually real: my mind is always three steps ahead even when it’s two steps behind.
Vegan Rhubarb Panna Cotta
Dreamy, pink and delicious. Recipe adapted from my Passionfruit Panna Cotta, which was, in turn, adapted slightly from this recipe at anisabet.com.au. Roasted rhubarb is a method suggested in numerous Nigella Lawson books, most recently Cook, Eat, Repeat. Makes 4-5 servings.
- 500g pink rhubarb, cleaned and trimmed
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup extra
- 1 x 400ml tin full-fat coconut cream
- 1 teaspoon agar-agar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1: First, roast your rhubarb – slice each stick of rhubarb into smaller lengths, pack into a roasting dish in more or less a single layer, sprinkle over the half cup of sugar – and honestly, I didn’t actually measure it out, I just shook the bag of sugar over the rhubarb till it felt right and encourage you to do the same – then cover the tin tightly with tinfoil and place in a 180C/350F oven for thirty minutes. Allow the rhubarb to cool before decanting it, along with all the pink syrup that has formed, into a container and store in the fridge. This will make more than you need for the recipe but roasted rhubarb is always delightful to have on hand.
2: Scoop about 3/4 cup of the roasted rhubarb and syrup into a saucepan, along with the can of coconut cream and the extra 1/3 cup of sugar. Cook over low heat for a few minutes, without letting it come to a boil, stirring to break down the rhubarb.
3: Dissolve the agar-agar in a little cold water and spatula the lot into the pink rhubarb cream, stirring thoroughly to ensure there are no lumps. Keep stirring over a low heat – again, without letting it get anywhere near boiling – for another five or so minutes. It should thicken up slightly. Stir in the vanilla (you can really stir it in at any point along the way, I just remembered it now.)
4: Use a cup measure or ladle to divide this mixture between four or five small ramekins or pretty glasses. If you use four, you’ll get more, if you use five, you’ll get five panna cotta, it’s as simple as that. Refrigerate the panna cotta for a couple of hours – they set quite quickly, but I find the flavour grows stronger if you leave them overnight.
Serve with reserved roasted rhubarb and a little of the rhubarb syrup spooned over the top.
- Agar-agar is available at shops that sell vegan stuff and Asian supermarkets, it’s usually quite inexpensive at the latter. One teaspoon doesn’t sound like a lot to set all that liquid but it’s powerful stuff.
- Use any leftover rhubarb on yoghurt and cereal, to top ice cream, add the syrup to cocktails, or just – make another batch of panna cotta!
Snow by Whipping Boy. I swear every dinner time a random forgotten shoegaze band will come up in conversation with my brother that I’ve never heard of and then I listen to them and it turns out they’re my new favourite band! Somehow we haven’t run out of shoegaze bands yet! This song came from Whipping Boy’s album Submarine, and I recommend listening to it all at once, but Snow has all the hallmarks of what makes the rest of the album excellent: a muffled, layered early 90s grimness coupled with remarkable, soaring beauty.
Supervixens by A.R Kane. Speaking of shoegaze; Spotify recently capitalised on the user-propelled free advertising they receive with their end-of-year listening summaries by delivering a distinctly half-hearted mid-year version, and yes, I knew I was being pandered to but unfortunately I love being told I’m special and when Spotify said: “who else but you would play Linda Eder after A.R Kane?” I was like yes, who indeed could do this? Well, now you can enjoy being special too. I’ve mentioned this song so many times on here already but I don’t care because I love it so much.
Don’t Rain On My Parade by Linda Eder. Look if you don’t have time, skip to 3 minutes and 10 seconds, the direction the notes go in compared to how utterly chill she appears to be delivering them is literally comparable to the Moon landing in terms of widespread cultural significance.
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