Cardamom-scented milk custard with apricot gel and pistachios

My dear friend Greg Stinson created this dessert and served it at a dinner party that starred North African flavors. 

If you love cardamom, use the full 2 teaspoons; otherwise, use 1 1/2 teaspoons, for more delicate cardamom flavor. Use a small knife to pierce the cardamom pods, and empty the seeds into the mortar, and discard the pods.

This works great as a make-ahead dessert; you can prepare them either the day before, or make them in the morning and serve them after dinner. Wait till the last minute to add the pistachio garnish, so the pistachios stay crisp.

Serves 6.

Ingredients

For the custard:

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons cardamom seeds, ground in a mortar

1/3 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the apricot gel:

1 pound ripe apricots (about 6 medium), quartered and pitted

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup prosecco

Pinch of salt

Garnish:

1/2 cup toasted shelled pistachios, roughly chopped

Instructions

Make the custard: In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of the milk and all the cream with the sugar, salt and cardamom. Bring to a simmer over medium heat; as soon as it simmers, remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 1 cup of milk and set aside. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl and set aside. Bring the milk and cream mixture back to a simmer over medium heat, slowly whisk in the cornstarch slurry and immediately add the vanilla. Continue simmering for 60 seconds, whisking the whole time to keep it smooth. Strain the custard into the large bowl. 

Divide the custard into 6 1/2 cup custard cups, heat-proof glasses or ramekins, let them cool a bit, then put them uncovered into the fridge to cool a little more while you make the apricot gel.

Make the gel: Put the apricot quarters in a medium saucepan with the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes, till the sugar is melting. Add the prosecco and salt and continue cooking 8 to 10 minutes, until the apricots are soft and translucent. 

Transfer the apricots and liquid to the bowl of a food processor and purée till smooth. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Let the gel cool slightly.

Once the custards have set up (it shouldn't take too long), pour a layer – about 1/4 inch thick for wider containers or 3/8 inch thick for narrower ones – over each of the custards. You'll probably have a little gel leftover. (It's delicious as a topping for vanilla ice cream.) Refrigerate the custards until thoroughly chilled. If you won't be serving them till the next day, put plastic film over them (without letting the film touch the gel). 

Just before you're ready to serve, garnish each of the custards with chopped pistachios.