Last year, Richard decided he wanted to go to Latium to celebrate his birthday. It's an Italian restaurant tucked away in an unlikely road, just north of Oxford Street. Don't be put off by its echo-y lack of soft furnishings or its Italian "fayn dayning" tag line, because the food is properly delicious. As ravioli specialists, you can literally have ravioli for every course, including pudding, and although they offer sweet pasta raviolis, I think it's their pineapple variant that is the most interesting. God only knows where they find them, but they seem to use the biggest pineapples known to humanity and slice them so perishingly thinly that I can't work out how it can possibly be done by hand. I'd put money on it that they use some kind of meat slicer, because if they don't, their precision is nothing short of extraordinary. They use one sheet of pineapple, which is filled and folded in half before being frozen. Although I remember it tasting good, filled with something cold and lime-heavy, it's the look of the thing that most impresses. I wanted to attempt a recreation using a thin sheet of pineapple as a parcel to hold a scrumptious filling, so I went out and bought the biggest pineapple I could find. Really, it was a whopper. After peeling it and removing the "eyes", I began the laborious task of slicing it as thinly as I could, which turned out to be pretty thinly indeed, if you don't hold up Latium's slicing as a benchmark. The thinness wasn't the problem, it was the size of the actual rounds. They would be far too small to contain any decent quantity of filling. Disappointingly, I had to resign myself to the fact that Latium must buy their particular breed of pineapple in Brobdingnag, and, as I didn't have the requisite travel guide, I would have to make do with the non-mutant sized kind found in the greengrocer's down the road. In the end I used two sheets for my parcels, which (take note Latium!) ended up more closely resembling ravioli than the giant-one-sheeted examples ever did. Get in! I decided to fill my pineapple parcels with passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait and scattered more of the scooped out passion fruit flesh on top to create a crunchy, tangy sauce. It went down as a refreshing rest after its meaty predecessors with all, except Tamzin Aitken, who, as I mentioned before, is perennially averse to the pleasures of the pineapple and is impervious to any powers of persuasion to tempt her otherwise. Ah well, more for me. She had to make do with a bowl of passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait.
Passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait stuffed pineapple parcels.
|Inside the pineapple parcel|
1 large pineapple
1 vanilla pod, cut in half, seeds scraped out
4oz/100g caster sugar
7 fl.oz/ 200ml water
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Top and tail the pineapple and carefully remove the skin with a very sharp knife. Carefully pluck out any little black "eyes" and, without removing the core, slice the pineapple into wafer thin discs. Place the pineapple in a tupperware box. Place the sugar, water, basil leaves, vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat. Strain the syrup over the pineapple, pop the lid on and allow to cool before transferring to the fridge for as long as you've got - 3 hours to 3 days.
For the passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait
4 eggs, separated
4oz/ 100g caster sugar
4 fl.oz/ 100ml water
6 tsp pink peppercorns (plus extra for scattering)
16 passion fruits
5 fl.oz/ 150ml double cream
First, you need to make a pâte à bombe. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Once dissolved, stop stirring and increase the heat until the syrup comes to the boil. Leave it for 30 seconds then take the syrup off the heat. Place the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and whisk (if you have an electric handheld whisk, use it) until the yolks are pale and creamy. Add the hot sugar syrup very slowly, drip by drip, continuing to whisk all the the time. This takes a while, so try to be patient. Once all the syrup has been added, continue whisking until you have a thick frothy custard. Remove the bowl from the pan and continue whisking at the highest speed for a couple of minutes. Turn the speed down and continue whisking for five minutes more at a low speed. Yes, there's a lot of whisking here. The mixture should have doubled in volume and leave a ribbon trail. Leave until cool enough to pop in the fridge to cool completely.
Line a loaf tin with cling film. Bash the pink peppercorns into a pestle and mortar. Remove the pulp from 12 passion fruits and plonk in a sieve over a bowl or jug. Use a wooden spoon to push the pulp and juice through the sieve leaving the seeds behind. Whisk the cream and stir in the passion fruit juice and the pink peppercorns. Fold the passion fruit cream into the pâte à bombe you made earlier. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold into the passion fruit mixture. Tip into your prepared loaf tin and freeze for at least 3 hours.
For the pineapple parcels
Take the parfait out of the freezer for 10 minutes to make it easier to scoop. Take one piece of pineapple out of the syrup and place on a clean surface (the worktop will do, if you have space). Scoop out a large teaspoons' worth of parfait out of the tin (try to do it all at one end, so you can slice the rest later for another night's pudding) and place in the centre of the macerated pineapple disc. Place another disc on top and, using your hands, press the top pineapple disc around the parfait, expelling any air and sealing the two sheets of pineapple together. Place in a tupperware box and pop in the freezer, while you make another parcel. Continue making parcels (popping each one in the freezer as soon as you've made it, so your parfait doesn't melt) until you have used up your pineapple. Take the rest of the parfait out of the loaf tin and trim off the jagged end you've been scooping bits out of, and wrap in more cling film and shove it back in the freezer to slice for another day. Now, back to the pineapple parcels. Get them out of the freezer 10 minutes before serving and scoop out the pulp from the remaining passion fruits and scatter over the top of each parcel, along with a few more bashed up pink peppercorns.