Commercial kitchens from Milan to Sydney to Singapour to Dallas are serving Panna Cotta these days. I get the impression that most chefs the world over think that Italy is where the mediterranean starts and ends!
I wish they would serve what we call ashtaliyeh.Ashta is the word for cream in Arabic and ashtaliyeh is the pudding derived from it; a bit deceiving, because it does not contain cream!
This is a very creamy pudding, without any cream! It is thickened with cornstarch which avoids the rubberiness that comes from gelatin; it is nearly unsweetened and served with a syrup on the side. Flavorings are traditionally orange blossom and rose water and mastic.
This is a recipe from a Lebanese chef and restaurant owner in the UK, Hussien Dekmak. It is an extra rich recipe that adds some cream cheese spread such as Kiri to the pudding; optional, since the pudding can just as easily be made with milk alone.
Time to make? figure on less than 10 minutes; however, it needs to cool and firm up in the fridge, preferably overnight.
INGREDIENTS : 4 servings
1 pint of milk (500ml)
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/4 cup of cornstarch (add one tablespoon more if you like it stiffer)
75 g of Kiri or 3 ounces of cream cheese spread (optional)
3 pebbles of mastic-optional-
1 teaspoon of orange blossom water and 1 teaspoon of rose water
For the syrup: (You will most likely have some leftover, which is fine, it will keep for several weeks in the fridge)
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of water
a squirt of lemon (about a teaspoon)
a teaspoon of orange blossom water, a teaspoon of rose water
To garnish the ashtaliyeh:
A couple of tablespoons of pistachios, ground in a mortar with a pinch of sugar
1. Heat 1 1/2 cups of milk, sugar and cheese over medium heat, stirring to dissolve both the sugar and cheese. Take the cornstarch and dissolve in the remaining milk. As soon as the milk mixture starts steaming, add the cornstarch and keep stirring nonstop for a couple of minutes until the mixture thickens.
2. Add the mastic, the orange blossom and rose water, stir for 10 seconds and remove from the stove.
3. Pour the pudding mixture through a strainer into a bowl or measuring cup, pushing it through with a spoon to get it as smooth as possible.
4. Pour into several ramequins. Cool on the counter and then chill in the fridge overnight uncovered.
How to use the mastic:
The mastic or miskeh (in Arabic) is sold in Middle-Eastern groceries; it is imported from Greece. The store where I shop keeps it under lock and in small jars. It comes in tiny pebbles. It needs to be ground up in order to be mixed into the pudding in the last minutes of cooking. My method was to grind it in a tiny marble mortar with a pinch of sugar until powdery and throw the lot into the milk mixture; the problem is that this method leaves a residue of mastic in the mortar.
Another method which was recommended by Peter from kalofagas.ca is to freeze the mastic for a minimum of two hours (I would keep the jar in the freezer); then place the pebbles between two sheets of plastic wrap and pulverize them with a rolling pin. He claims this method uses up every last speck of mastic.
To make the syrup:
1. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan; bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes; add the lemon juice and keep boiling the syrup for a total of 12 minutes. Add the flavorings at the end, cool the syrup and serve alongside the ashtaliyeh for those who like it sweeter.
2. When ready to serve the ashtaliyeh, sprinkle the top with a little ground pistachios.
3. If unable to secure the cream cheese spread (called Puck or Kiri in Middle-Eastern groceries) substitute some cream for the milk (about 1/2 cup) and proceed as above.