Me and Rowely Leigh

Rhubarb and strawberry jelly with sweet geranium pannacotta


I had the pleasure again this year to attend the Ballymaloe Literary festival in May. Driving down to Shanagarry in Cork I was thinking that there was no way it could top last year, as the first of any great event usually is the best and repeating it can be a real challenge.

Last year was such a whirlwind of amazing chefs & writers giving talks and demonstrations that blew my mind. Amazing dinners cooked by my hero’s and demonstrations with new, exciting and simple foods.

Among the contributors this year were Noma’s Rene Redzepi, Yotam Ottolinghi, Sami Tamimi, Diana Kennedy, Maggie Beer, Alys Fowler and David Prior to name but a few.

The atmosphere amongst theses giants of the culinary world was totally chilled.  The John McKenna interview with Rene Redzepi could have been you, chatting with Rene in your sitting room at home with your feet up. Everyone was there to soak it all up, enjoy and chat their way through the weekend.

The only thing that I feel did not come across to people before the event was that this is not just for professionals, cooks or writers. They were just really accessible, interesting people talking about food, their lives and how they started on their journey to becoming some of the worlds most established cookbook writers, chefs, gardeners and publishers. It was as good if not better than last year, it is a food and literature festival for everybody.

Anyway, back to me and Rowley Leigh! I had the pleasure of attending a lunch in Ballymaloe House on the Sunday before leaving, cooked by Rowley Leigh, chef/proprietor of Le Café Anglaise, London and cookery correspondent with the Financial Times.

I sat beside Tom Parker Bowls and Simon Hopkinson who were very charming, but they both insisted on keeping a chair for Rowley Leigh beside them. Lots of people wanted to join the table, but no, the chair had to be kept for Rowley, smitten they were, but in a very cool way.

Rowley prepared a chilled Melon soup with a smiley face of olive oil to begin, then a delicious piece of Brill with pea shoots and butter sauce, followed by Spring Lamb with Sweetbreads and finished off with a simple but totally delicious desert of strawberry and Rhubarb jelly with lemon verbena panna cotta.

Anyway Rowley was nowhere to be seen, as he was cooking lunch. The two boy’s had to leave before desert to sit on a panel for a discussion on cookbooks for cooks, when low and behold out comes Rowley Leigh and sits down beside none other than me. And we chatted, and chatted about Connemara, London, childhood and his lovely wife who I had met last year, chatted some more until I had to get back into the car and head for the hills of Connemara.
Now he was a really charming man, and a very interesting man too.
So this is my version of Rowley Leigh’s Rhubarb and strawberry jelly with sweet geranium panna cotta, as I had no verbena.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Jelly with Sweet Geranium & Yoghurt Panna Cotta
To fill 8 small juice glasses

Rhubarb and Strawberry

7oz Rhubarb (red part of stalks)
4oz sugar
A squeeze of lemon juice

6oz Strawberries

5oz sugar
5floz Water
1 tbsp of crème de casis
½ lemon juiced
1 ½  Tsps. powered gelatine
3 Tbsp water for the gelatine

First to the Rhubarb.
Use only the nice red parts of the rhubarb and slice the stalks up in ¼ inch pieces.
Place in a pot with the sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Put on a moderate to high heat, stir until sugar is dissolved and cover with a lid.
Cook for about 5 minutes, remove and cool on a tray and set aside.

Next the syrup
Put the sugar and water in a pot and stir on the heat until sugar is dissolved.
Bring to a rolling boil and then simmer for 3 minutes or so.
Remove and allow to cool
When cooled add the lemon juice and crème de casis.

Wash and cut the strawberries in half or quarters depending on the size

When everything has cooled put the gelatine in a bowl and mix in the water.
Put the bowl in a pot of hot water until the gelatine has become liquid and clear.
Add the syrup to the gelatine (the order is important, do to add the gelatine to the syrup or it will be lumpy)

Then add the strawberries and the rhubarb to the jelly syrup and mix in.
Fill 8 small juice glasses about ¾ full with the jelly and place in the fridge to set.

Yoghurt and Sweet Geranium Panna Cotta

8oz of Natural Yoghurt
4floz Milk
3 ½ floz cream
2oz sugar
4 sweet geranium leaves (or 8 fresh lemon verbena leaves)
½ tsp lime zest
1 ½ tsp gelatine

Put the milk, cream and sugar in a pot and place on the heat stiring until the sugar is dissolved; add the leaves and the lime zest and remove from the heat to cool.
When cool, put the gelatine in a bowl and mix in the water, put the bowl in a pot of hot water until the gelatine has turned to liquid and cool.
Strain the leaves from the milk mixture and add it to the gelatine, again, in that order to avoid lumps.
Then mix in the yoghurt until smooth.
Pour this panna cotta mixture into the glasses on top of the set jelly.
Return to the fridge until ready to serve with a little sweet geranium or verbena leaf on top of each.

If you have neither sweet geranium or verbena you could up the lime zest, not as good but still very nice!