Panna cotta is a lovely light dessert for spring. You can flavour them with your favourite combos – we like to use herbs from our garden. Rosemary, bay leaf, tarragon, lemon verbena and lavender (in small doses) all add their own personality. Here we use thyme, which gets on well with the orange. The poached rhubarb, beetroot and hazelnuts are a colourful and refreshing combination.
For the panna cotta
2 gelatine leaves (titanium strength)
250ml full-cream milk
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
1 sprig thyme
50g castor sugar
1 orange, zested
For the poached rhubarb, beetroot and hazelnuts
3 rhubarb sticks
3 baby beetroot
2 tbsp honey
1 star anise
2 tbsp hazelnuts, roasted and crushed
1. Put the gelatine leaves in cold water to soften, then squeeze out the excess water.
2. Split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and set seeds aside.
3. In a saucepan, warm the milk, cream, vanilla pod and thyme to 85C or just under the boil. Add the gelatine leaves and stir to dissolve.
4. Fill a large bowl with ice cubes, nestle a medium bowl into the ice and strain in the milk and cream mix.
5. Add the orange zest and vanilla seeds and stir to cool the mix down. It will thicken slightly, distributing the vanilla seeds evenly.
6. Distribute mix evenly into four small bowls (about 200 millilitre capacity) and chill in the fridge to set for a good three hours or overnight.
7. For the poached rhubarb, beetroot and hazelnuts, pre-heat the oven to 160C.
8. Remove the top and bottom of the rhubarb and cut into batons. Skin the beetroots and slice into thin rounds. Place the beetroot slices and rhubarb into a deep baking tray.
9. Juice and zest two of the oranges, pour the juice and honey over the rhubarb and beetroots, then add the zest and spices.
10. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove and leave to cool (keep it covered so it keeps cooking at first in the gentle residual heat). Peel and dice the remaining orange and add it to the cooled rhubarb and beetroots with the hazelnuts.
11. Serve with panna cotta or ice-cream.
Tip: when you set the panna cotta in the fridge, cover it with a lid or glad wrap to avoid tainting the delicate flavour.