Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

If you haven't ever had Panna Cotta, you're missing a big treat. And, if you've never had it, it's hard to describe: it's not custard; it's not like mousse either; it's not clotted cream; nor is it like a pie filling. But it is creamy, yummy. I guess you'll just have to try it to find out. I've had it out and I've made it before, although this time I made it in muffin cups. I wanted to use ramekins, but I didn't have enough for the family crowd we had over. A shopping expedition to Target didn't yield any ramekins, either. I wasn't about to drive to Williams-Sonoma just for ramekins. So I bought this new-fangled kind of silicone muffin tin. Each of the silicone cups are removable and they slide easily into their custom muffin tray. Since they're small, however, I filled them right up to the top, which yields one half cup. So because of that, the recipe made 12 pannas using this recipe.

Strawberries are at their peak and waning, so I wanted to use berries with it. In the past I've made a Joanne Weir recipe for panna cotta, but I thought I'd try Ina Garten's recipe instead, which uses more yogurt. Dave and I are stuck on Fage yogurt (Trader Joe's, $3.60 low fat). It's a strained (thicker) yogurt. It comes in non-fat, low fat and full fat. Interestingly, I had a hard time getting the pannas out of the muffin cups - you might not know the difference if you've never had this - the blobs of panna aren't as perfect as you'd have at a restaurant. But, it made no difference whatsoever in the taste.

It's very easy to make (must be made ahead, though) and spends some time resting in the refrigerator. An hour before serving the berries were sliced and balsamic added and the black pepper. Actually, since I wasn't sure people would really like the pepper, we added it as a garnish on the berries rather than adding it to the berries in the bowl.

A note about the balsamic - I'm embarrassed to tell you that I have at least 4 bottles of balsamic vinegar on my pantry shelf. One bottle is cheap. Not very good either, but I use it in salad dressings or marinades only. Another is a middle grade, a bit thicker in texture and much more tasty. I use it in cooking when I know I'll be able to tell the difference. A third bottle is a very expensive one, an aged balsamic I bought in Italy from a unique little shop that only carried wine and balsamic - it's the cream of the crop, is almost the consistency of a light syrup. You could sip it from a spoon it's so good. That one is reserved for the occasions when a drizzle is truly a garnish on a dish that prides itself on the balsamic quality. And, I had a bottle of pear balsamic on my shelf too. I don't even remember where I got it, but I took a tiny taste before using it to see if it was appropriate for this dish. Since this was a fruit dessert, I thought it would be ideal. Loved it. Will I make this recipe again? You betcha.

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries
Recipe: Barefoot Contessa at Home
Servings: 8

1 package unflavored gelatin
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups yogurt -- plain, whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 whole vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
8 cups strawberries -- sliced
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar -- good quality
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper -- yes, really
fresh grated lemon zest

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on 3 T. of cold water. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow gelatin to dissolve.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the cream, the yogurt and vanilla extract. Split the vanilla bean and use the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds into the cream. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups cream and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 8 (6-8 ounces) ramekins or custard cups and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
3. Thirty minutes to an hour before serving, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar and pepper. Set aside at room temperature.
4. To serve, run a small knife around each dessert and dip the bottom of each ramekin quickly in a bowl of hot tap water. Invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate and surround the panna cotta with strawberries. Dust lightly with freshly grated lemon zest and serve.
NOTES : Splenda or other surgar substitute may be used in lieu of the sugar in this dish. I used a fruit balsamic (pear in my case) rather than regular. Just don't use a cheap grocery store balsamic as it's too harsh. Buy one bottle of "good" balsamic to use for special occasions, and this is one of them. You can also do a different proportion of heavy cream to yogurt if you use the thicker Greek yogurt, Fage. Greek yogurt is very creamy already, so you can use 3 cups of that with lesser of the heavy cream. It may be a bit harder to get out of the ramekins, however, as yogurt doesn't "gel"-up as easily as heavy cream. In that case, you may choose to serve this in the ramekin.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 519 Calories; 36g Fat (59.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 130mg Cholesterol; 91mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1 Fruit; 1/2 Non-Fat Milk; 7 Fat; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable recipe, click on title at top.


Kate said...

Balsamic is my go-to choice for strawberries. I love them macerated in balsamic and brown sugar, with a touch of sea salt for contrast. I try to use them wisely, y'know, like on angel food cake or over ice cream or maybe in yogurt, but sometimes I just make them that way and eat them with a spoon. *sigh* Life is good when strawberries are ripe and cheap.

Carolyn T said...

I agree with you, Kate - strawberries have some kind of special affinity to balsamic vinegar. There must be an actual chemistry involved because it's like they're made to go together!