This time of year is always good for strawberries, although I have to say I was shocked at the price last time I was in the UAE. They're less expensive at Wimbledon, for heaven's sake. Anyway, splash out and buy some to make this gorgeous summery pudding. You also need to splash out on the balsamic vinegar since it is one of the few things - apart from moi, of course - that improve with age. The older it is, the better; it does make a difference to the dish's flavour.
Do you think I've improved with age? A friend told me the other day that I have "mellowed". I'm not sure whether that's a compliment, though I think she meant it as one. I always thought of myself as a mellow kind of chap, though others may disagree.
It is funny, though, how in my middle years I am increasingly drawn to people I knew when I was just a boy. I guess they are a little like my family now. The fact that I am still in touch with so many of them makes me think that I must be doing something right.
I remember strawberries from my childhood. They were always a treat, but sometimes I would come across wild strawberries on the estate near to where I lived. Much has been made about the fact that I grew up on a council estate - and yes, that is true - but just down the road was a glorious country estate where I feel my character was formed, my love of nature and her flavours, and my passion for hunting.
I include strawberries in my hunting - there are few things more thrilling than wandering through the countryside and coming across a treasure trove of sweet, ripe fruit, and sitting down and savouring them one by one. I suspect a lot of you are about to head off to greener climes and might do a spot of strawberry hunting of your own. Be sure to take this recipe and you will be able to impress your friends and family with this little Italian dish. I guarantee it will go down well. Auguri, buona vacanza!
MAKE IT YOURSELF
Balsamic marinated strawberry panna cotta
30mg gelatin (around 8 medium leaves)
2l cold water
1l fresh cream
5 drops vanilla essence
400g strawberries (about 40)
50g icing sugar
10ml aged balsamic vinegar
Sprigs of mint leaves for garnish
1. Soak gelatin leaves in 2 litres of cold water until soft.
2. Bring the cream to the boil in a casserole. Add sugar, vanilla essence and the gelatin leaves (which have been squeezed of excess water).
3. Cool mixture to at least 35°C and pour into any suitable dishes, ensuring enough room for the strawberries. Wrap and place in the fridge.
4. Wash the strawberries, discard the leaves and cut into 5cm cubes.
5. Marinate strawberries with icing sugar and balsamic vinegar. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to create a compote.
6. To serve, top each glass of panna cotta with a generous spoonful of the strawberry compote.