My exposure to Yotam Ottolenghi's recipes has not included many desserts. Although Sarah tells me that there's an extensive set in his first book, Plenty finishes with a section on fruit and cheese (not terribly helpful for a vegan cooking day) and there's only a little more on the Guardian website. But it's difficult for me to let the idea of dessert a go. I lingered over a picture of roasted rhubarb and labneh scatttered with pistachios and hatched a plan.
This would be good with coconut yoghurt instead of labneh, I thought. And then I decided to trying inventing coconut labneh. With Carla's whipped coconut cream topping in the back of my mind, I figured that straining coconut cream instead of dairy curds was worth a shot. I scooped the solid fat out of two cans and noticed that it was lumpy and uneven. I didn't want firm fat pebbles in my labneh so I tried a whip-round in the food processor. To my surprise, this actually separated a little more liquid from the now-smooth coconut fat. I set up my coconut fat in a clean Chux wipe to drain overnight and barely any more liquid dropped from it. It seems to me that the hours-long straining could be entirely replaced by a minute or two in a food processor! Sure, it's not labneh but it's something buttery and vegan, perfect for dolloping on desserts.
The baked rhubarb didn't need any tinkering to meet our dietary requirements. It's simple and charming and was a nice excuse to use one of the real vanilla pods I've been hoarding. The zest of a lemon is divided across the two components of this recipe but I'd actually recommend saving it all for the rhubarb - it does make a real difference to the syrup, and can interfere with the texture of the coconut cream.
While I was all excited about my experiments with coconut cream, the surprising pleasure here was really that these dishes were the perfect accompaniment to Toby's mandarin polenta cake. Maybe that's easier to do when, in an attempt to channel Ottolenghi, you keep one eye firmly on the best produce of the season.
Sherry-roasted rhubarb with coconut cream
(adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Guardian column)
2 x 400mL cans coconut cream
40g icing sugar
generous pinch of salt
100mL sherry or other sweet wine
70g caster sugar
1/2 vanilla pod
20g pistachios, roughly chopped
Open the cans of coconut cream and scoop the solid and creamy parts into a food processor. Set the watery parts aside for another use (maybe a Thai curry or a smoothie!). Whip up the coconut cream in the food processor - I found that more liquid separated from the fat at this stage. Pour away the liquid and transfer the solids to a bowl. Sift the icing sugar and salt into the coconut cream and beat it all together until smooth and well combined. If you want to strain the cream further, plonk it into a muslin cloth, cheesecloth or clean Chux and bundle it up, hanging it over a bowl to continue draining overnight. Since it's winter and coconut fat hardens in the fridge I did this out on the bench. When you're about to serve the dish, grate the zest of half the lemon into the cream and beat through by hand.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Chop the rhubarb into 6cm-long batons and place them in a baking dish. Pour over the wine and the sugar. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the dish and add the pods too. Peel the remaining half a lemon's worth of zest into strips and add it to the dish. Stir it all together and roast that rhubarb uncovered for about 20 minutes, until its tender but still holding its shape.
Serve the rhurbarb with a dollop of coconut cream and a sprinkling of pistachios... also, in the best circumstances, a piece of Toby's polenta cake.