Monday, July 20, 2009

Panna cotta for a crowd

I needed to take a dessert for a potluck volunteer board meeting last week, and knew that it would have to be fruity, of course, but which one, what kind? So many options this time of year... I had some of the last of Klicker's strawberries sitting around, and haven't made panna cotta for a while, and I do so love me anything custard! There's something about its non-egginess that is refreshing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not turning on the old creme brulee standby, but if you're looking for less oven time (try NO oven time) and a little lighter (ie, eat more!) the variations on this Italian custard are endless.

(Caveat: I would advise against just assuming you can stir in ANY old flavoring... I thought I'd toss a little nutella into a portion of my panna cotta and it simply did NOT turn out... separated and made a bit of a mess. So, no pictures of that!)

I have always fiddled around a bit with my panna cotta recipes (see note re: nutella above), but the one I followed most closely for this recipe was this one from epicurious:

Strawberry Panna Cotta
3 cups sliced strawberries (1 pound)
1 3/4 cups well-shaken low-fat buttermilk
6 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin, from less than 2 (1/4-oz) envelopes
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream

Blend strawberries, buttermilk, and sugar in a blender until very smooth, then pour through a very fine sieve into a medium bowl, pressing hard on solids. Discard solids.

Sprinkle gelatin over milk in a small bowl and let stand 1 minute to soften.

Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved.

Whisk cream mixture into strawberry purée and pour into molds. Chill molds, covered, until firm, at least 8 hours.

My variation on this was to not completely blend the strawberries and seive them--I mashed them with a potato masher and just stirred in the buttermilk and sugar. I liked having pieces of strawberries in the custard, though it is definitely a more rustic approach. And rather than make a strawberry compote for the top as the recipe calls for, I just sprinkled some fresh blueberries for a little color/texture contrast.

One last note: Panna cotta is traditionally turned out of a mold/form/cup (like a flan), but if that intimidates you, don't let it. I have made countless panna cottas that have been eaten straight out of whatever custard cup I put them to chill. Tastes the same: Yummy.

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