This week, let’s shift from savory dishes to sweet and talk about dessert. Since it is the middle of summer, turning on the oven and baking something probably ranks low on your cooking to-do list. Instead, try out the following silky, sweet dessert that can be made with the help of your refrigerator.
Panna cotta is a Northern Italian dessert you’ve probably just seen on fancy restaurant menus. But you don’t need to be a trained pastry chef to pull off this creamy, dreamy dessert. It’s a cinch to prep, then just set it and forget it in the fridge. It’s comprised of cooked cream (or other dairy product), sugar, gelatin and other flavorings. After the gelatin and sugar have dissolved in the warm cream, the mixture is poured into (typically clear) serving dishes or silicone molds and chilled for a few hours to let it firm up and set.
As for the texture of the dish, let me put it this way: If pudding and jello had a baby, it’d be panna cotta — it’s soft and smooth, yet firm and just a wee bit wobbly. Brit TV chef Nigella Lawson described the ideal elasticity of panna cotta when she acted as guest judge on Top Chef: Las Vegas: “...[panna cotta] should quiver like an 17th century courtesan’s inner thigh.”
For this iteration of panna cotta below, I went with a classic vanilla cream base to highlight the topping of balsamic vinegar marinated strawberries. Yep, you heard me correct: balsamic. This particular vinegar is amazing paired with strawberries, and the sugar added not only tones down some of the vinegar's acidity but also pulls out the juices of the berries to create a syrup.
Get in your kitchen and whip up this fancy dessert pronto!
Panna Cotta with Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries
Makes 8 servings
Adapted from David Lebovitz
4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
2 (about 4 1/2 teaspoons) packets powdered gelatin, like Knox brand
6 tablespoons cold water
Stir together the cream and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is very warm. Be careful not to let the cream get too hot and boil over. Remove from the heat and add in the vanilla and zest. If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the cream with a spoon or small knife. Optional; Cover the mixture with a lid and let sit for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors infuse.
Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium bowl and let sit for 5-10 minutes to let it "bloom." It will start to form a gelatinous film on top of the water.
Rewarm the cream if needed and pour it over the bloomed gelatin water. Stir until all of the gelatin has dissolved. Immediately pour the panna cotta mixture into wine glasses or clear serving dishes. Chill for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. (If using silicone molds, pour the panna cotta mixture into molds and chill at least 4 hours to set, then flip the molds and gently pop out the slightly firm panna cotta molds.)
2 pints (4 cups) sliced, fresh strawberries
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Lemon or orange zest, for garnish
An hour or so before serving, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar and pepper in a bowl. Let them macerate in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
Top chilled panna cottas with strawberry topping. Sprinkle each one with a bit of citrus zest. Serve immediately.