I've always been obsessed with the wobbly stuff and I love the idea of suspending food in a flavoured jelly – in a grown-up sort of way, of course. Jelly has a wonderful retro appeal and makes a really refreshing summer dessert, so it's great news that it finally seems to be back in fashion again. If you're prepared to be a bit creative, you can have great fun making visually appealing sweet and savoury jellies. Adding a touch of alcohol always goes down well at a dinner party, and it's also a great way to perk up your guests if they are being a bit boring!
Noval white and black jellies
A few weeks back I visited the leading port house Quinta do Noval in the Douro region of Portugal. And while I was tasting some of their heavenly vintages, I started to think of ways that I could incorporate some of them into a pudding.
I was particularly impressed with Noval Black, a seductively deep, raisiny and spicy vintage. It costs £14.99 and will be starting to appear in specialist outlets in the UK over the next few months (for stockists, telephone 01707 274790). I have used it with white port to make this eye-catching, two-tier effect jelly. If you want more of an alcoholic kick, just add more port and cut back on the sugar and syrup.
170g granulated sugar
5 leaves of gelatine
100ml white port
100ml Noval black or ruby port
Bring the water and sugar to the boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then remove from the heat.
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes and then squeeze out the water and stir into the hot sugar syrup until dissolved. Leave the mixture to cool but do not let it set.
Divide the sugar syrup in half, add the white port to one and the Noval black port to the other.
Pour the white port jelly into moulds, such as small pudding basins or cups, and refrigerate until they are set. Then pour the black jelly on top and return to the fridge to set.
To serve, dip the jellies briefly into boiling water and then turn them out on to dessert plates. Serve with a spoonful of thick Jersey cream.
Wild strawberry and Pimm's jelly
This is a good way of using up a small harvest of wild strawberries if you are lucky enough to be growing them in your garden.
If you can't get hold of wild strawberries, then use sliced or quartered normal strawberries instead.
125g caster sugar
A few sprigs of mint
The peel from one-third of a cucumber
The peel and juice from a lemon
The zest from half an orange
4 gelatine leaves
A few borage flowers
100-150g wild strawberries
Put the water, sugar, mint, cucumber, lemon juice and peel, plus the orange zest into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for an hour, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for about 2-3 minutes until soft, then squeeze out the excess water. Meanwhile, bring 100ml of the strained liquid to the boil, add the gelatine and stir until dissolved. Stir into the rest of the strained liquid with the Pimm's.
Pour half of the liquid into either small savarin moulds or individual pudding basins, then distribute half the wild strawberries and the borage flowers. Place in the fridge to set for about 30-40 minutes. Once set, top up the moulds with the rest of the jelly and strawberries and return to the fridge to set. Serve with ice-cream or whipped Jersey cream.
Bloody Mary jelly shots
Makes about 8-10
3tbsp Worcestershire sauce if you wish
The juice of 3 lemons (approximately 90ml)
2-4tsp Tabasco, depending on how spicy you like it
800ml tomato juice
2tbsp freshly grated horseradish
5 leaves of gelatine
In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients together, except the gelatine, and leave to infuse for about 45 minutes, then strain through a very fine-meshed sieve. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 3-4 minutes, then squeeze out the excess water. Bring about 100ml of the liquid to the boil and stir the gelatine leaves in until dissolved; then stir into the rest of the liquid. Pour into shot glasses or similar and leave for about 45 minutes in the fridge to set.
Sea trout and cider jelly with summer vegetable salad
You could serve this as a cold buffet dish, a summery starter or as a main course if you increase its size. There has been a fair amount of wild sea trout around this year which is great news for those of us who are anglers and cooks. I tend to use the commercial brands of cider for this dish, as some of the real farmhouse ciders tend to go a little cloudy when the gelatine is added.
A 350-400g piece of sea trout, on the bone
300-400ml fish stock
6 black peppercorns
A few sprigs of wild or cultivated fennel ferns, stalks removed and reserved
3 leaves of leaf gelatine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the summer vegetable salad
40g cooked peas
60g podded weight of cooked broad beans
8-10 green beans, cooked and cut into 3cm lengths
A handful of small salad leaves and herbs (land cress, silver sorrel, pea shoots, chervil, flat parsley, chive tops, etc) cut into 3cm lengths
1tbsp olive oil
2tsp cider vinegar
Homemade or good-quality mayonnaise to serve
Put the sea trout in a saucepan and cover with the fish stock (add a little more if you need to). Add the peppercorns, stalks from the fennel and a couple of good pinches of sea salt. Bring to the boil, skim and simmer very gently for about 5 minutes, then leave to cool for about 45 minutes in the liquid. Once cool, remove the sea trout and carefully remove the flesh from the bone; then remove the skin and any small pin bones down the centre of the fillet. Strain about 200ml of the clearer liquid from the surface of the stock
through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl and discard the rest of the stock. Heat about 60ml of the strained liquid in a small pan. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes, then squeeze out the water and stir into the heated cooking liquor until dissolved. Add the heated liquid to the rest of the strained cooking liquid and stir in the cider.
Put cm of the liquid in the bottoms of 4 ramekins or tea cups and let it set. Take 4 good-sized chunks of the sea trout and place in the set jelly with a couple of sprigs of fennel and a futher tablespoon of the jelly liquid, then place in the fridge to set for about 30 minutes. Once set, add the rest of the pieces of sea trout, fennel and stock. Place in the fridge until set again.
When you are ready to serve them, dip the jellies into hot water for just a couple of seconds, making sure that they don't melt. Carefully push the jellies around the edges a little with your fingers and turn out on to serving plates.
Mix the cider vinegar and olive oil together and toss with the leaves and vegetables, then arrange in a pile with the jellies, or around them. Serve with the mayonnaise on the side.