A strange sweetness

Right now it’s winter in Sydney. Yes, winter. I get confused by the strange feeling of waking up with cold fingers and toes and then the realization that it’s July. I know winter asks for warming foods like soups and slowly braised stews but sometimes, just sometimes, I still need to have something cold and sweet.
Since I’m a big fan of mixing sweet with salty or spicy ingredients, and dark chocolate with chilli is one of my favourite treats, I thought of making a dark chocolate and pink peppercorn sorbet. Pink peppercorns have a different taste and texture from the everyday black peppercorns you find in stores. Unlike black pepper, these little pink berries taste much sweeter, smell fantastic (like a flowery perfume) and the texture is soft and hollow so that when pressed they break apart easily. They are perfect for using in desserts and even in cocktails, and they add an extra hint of warmth – much needed for a cold winter evening (well, it’s not that cold in Sydney).

dark chocolate sorbet with pink peppercorns
this recipe makes a creamy sorbet, a little like an ice cream but not as rich

2 cups milk (non-fat or whole depending on richness desired)
½ cup cocoa powder
6 oz (about 170g) good quality dark chocolate
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup sugar –  demerara sugar or something less refined
seasalt – pinch
1 tbsp pink peppercorns (crushed)

In a medium sized saucepan on medium heat, add milk and whisk in cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Heat up until whisked in smooth. When milk is warm add in chocolate (chopped). Once all chocolate has melted, take off heat and strain. If it doesn’t look smooth enough, blend 15 seconds. At this point, mix in vanilla and crushed pink peppercorns.

Chill the mix and then churn in ice-cream/sorbet maker. If you don’t have an ice cream maker you can check on the mix every ½-1 hour and mix around with a fork. It’s not the best way to achieve a frozen product, but it will work.

For a rainy day

What else is there to do on a rainy day but stay at home and cook something that will comfort your soul. For me, there can be nothing better than spending a few hours behind a warm stove, chopping vegetables and stirring things together to create something simply delicious. Of the many warm and hearty dishes I like to cook on wet and soggy days, soup is one of my favourites. My pea and mint soup with freshly grated grano padano cheese is a really easy recipe. I use frozen peas – yes, you read it correctly: frozen peas!

Some folks may wonder about using frozen vegetables when freshness is the most important aspect of good food. But peas are very temperamental: if you don’t consume them right away you risk that they’ll lose their sweetness and become starchy and just plain boring. So when they are harvested they need to be either consumed right away or flash-frozen.  This is true of many vegetables, but peas mature much faster than the average vegetable so you have to be quick!  Therefore, cooking with frozen peas allows you to enjoy the pea at its peak.

pea and mint soup
serves 4

500g frozen peas (about 2 cups)
1 green onion
a few sprigs of fresh mint
750 ml water or stock (I use vegetable stock or 1 tbsp miso paste mixed in the water)
½ cup grano padano cheese – use parmesan if you can’t find this one…any sharp cheese or even fresh would work

In a medium sized pot, place peas and water/stock and bring to boil. Add in chopped green onion and salt and pepper (sometimes I also add some dried chili flakes for heat). Cook 5 mins and turn off heat. Add 2 tbsp of chopped mint leaves – leave roughly chopped as you will need to blend. Take off heat. Once mix is slightly cooled, blend mix and return to pot. Add cheese (add more if you love cheese) and then season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. That’s it!