Coconut 'panna cotta' with lychees in lime syrup

I say panna cotta, but this doesn't actually have any cream in it (and 'panna cotta' literally means 'cooked cream', in Italian), so I guess it's actually closer to that old fashioned dish, blancmange. It's just coconut milk set with gelatine into a delightfully wobbly, dome-shaped creation. Hours of fun can be had just poking it or wobbling the plate. Of course, minutes of fun can also be had eating it, which is what I'd suggest you do soon afterwards. This came about really as a way of using up the vast amounts of lychees that keep appearing at the markets at the moment - I know they'll disappear for months soon once the season is over, and there's something so exotic and moreish about their delicate perfume that I am inspired to use them in as many ways as possible. You don't find many lychee recipes out there, so I'm making my own.

Lychees go well with several flavours, many of them also rather exotic - lime, fresh ginger, coconut. Sometimes they need something to bring out their shy flavour, and a combination of lime and sugar works rather well. I did this in syrup form, boiling sugar and water with lime zest until thick, then adding a squeeze or two of lime juice at the end. It's a bit of a faff peeling and de-stoning the lychees, but once you mix them with the syrup and take a bite they're really excellent. I was going to use them as a topping for a lime-flavoured cheesecake (more on that next week...) but then a coconut pairing occurred to me, and for some reason my mind landed on panna cotta.

It's very simple to make the coconut 'jelly' - warm some coconut milk, add sugar, add gelatine, put into moulds, and set in the fridge. I used a cook's blowtorch to get the jelly out of the moulds, because it was a bit stubborn (OK, so I could have used a knife, but why would I ever turn down a reason to use fire?) The moment when it slithers out of its metallic casing and forms a perfect shiny dome on the plate is rather satisfying. A sprinkling of lime zest and desiccated coconut brings all the flavours together, and the result is subtle but tasty. I have to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of the texture of panna cotta (but I do keep making it in an effort to force myself to like it), but my friends (/victims) reported that it was very good, and ate it all, so I suppose that's the best way to judge.

Coconut 'panna cotta' with lychees in lime syrup (serves 3):

Put a can of coconut milk (full fat, or use half coconut milk and half single cream/coconut cream, depending on how creamy you like your panna cotta) in a small saucepan. Heat gently, adding 60g caster sugar and a drop of vanilla extract (this helps to bring out the coconut flavour), and allow the sugar to dissolve. Put a couple of tablespoons of warm water in a bowl, and sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of powdered gelatine. Leave for a few minutes - meanwhile, lightly grease three ramekins or dariole moulds with a flavourless oil. Whisk together the gelatine and water, and whisk into the coconut mixture. Sprinkle some desiccated coconut into the moulds, then pour in the mixture and place immediately in the fridge for 3-4 hours.

For the lychees, bring equal amounts of sugar and water to the boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the zest of a lime and bubble away until it has thickened. Leave to cool for five minutes then add the juice of half a lime.

Peel and de-stone some lychees (however many you like, really). Take the coconut jellies out of the fridge, and invert the moulds on a plate. If they don't come out, use heat or run a knife carefully around the edge, and tap them to release the jelly. Arrange the lychees around the jelly, and pour over some of the lime syrup. Garnish with extra lime zest and some desiccated coconut.