TONY STAPLES: Vegetarian treat is a pretty starter for everybody

Asparagus panna cotta with dill sable biscuit
Asparagus panna cotta with dill sable biscuit

It’s National Vegetarian Week from next Monday, May 15, and head chef Tony Staples, of the Arora Hotel, Crawley, has a delicious recipe just right for the occasion.

Gone are the days when the vegetarian offer on any menu was a nut roast or a quiche. These days, dishes are so enticing that even meat lovers are choosing them. This savoury panna cotta, using fresh seasonal British asparagus, has just been added to our menu and is already proving popular. We serve it with cream cheese mixed with cracked black pepper.

I prefer to think of this dish as a pretty starter rather than a specific dish for vegetarians. So, if you are planning a more robust, meaty, main course for a dinner party, this would be the perfect way to begin.

Both panna cotta and sable biscuits are better known as desserts, but turn them into a savoury offering and not only do you have a delicious dish for your vegetarian friends, but a nice surprise for your meat lovers.

The Grill in the Arora is Crawley’s only AA-rosette restaurant. To book, phone 01293 530000. Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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Asparagus Panna Cotta with Dill Sable Biscuit

Serves 8 (light lunch/starter)

For the panna cotta:

400g asparagus

Salt and white pepper

20g agar agar

350ml full cream milk

For the biscuit:

250g plain flour

125g softened butter

150g grated Twineham Grange vegetarian Parmesan cheese

1 level teaspoon of salt

One and half beaten eggs

Half a bunch of chopped dill


Trim the asparagus by snapping off the hard ends. Place into boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and plunge into iced water to cool. Puree in a blender with salt and white pepper.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to the boil and remove from the heat. Stir the agar agar powder into the milk until dissolved. Cool the milk slightly and add to asparagus. Blitz until blended thoroughly.

Line a tray (approx. 28cm by 20cm by 6cm deep) with at least four layers of Clingfilm. Pour in the asparagus mixture. When cool, leave to set in the fridge overnight.

To make the sable biscuit, put all ingredients into a food processor and mix until it forms a dough. Roll out thinly onto a floured surface, about 2-3mm. Use rolling pin to lift the dough onto a greased and floured baking tray and bake for 3-5 minutes at 180oC, until it has just a hint of colour.

Cool on a wire rack and break into rough pieces.

To serve, use a knife dipped in hot water to cut the panna cotta into oblongs. Place onto plates and decorate with shards of dill sable biscuit.

Chef’s tip

Savoury herb sable biscuits are very moreish and perfect with pre-dinner drinks. Store in an air tight container for up to three days and use for dipping into hummus or garlic dip.

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