Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Gentle Bite

If my last post was naughty, I promise this one will be nice, all springtime and wildflowers and sweet, creamy, innocent goodness.

With the warmth of the year vining up our lengthening days, every cook should have a foil to the fruit that follows us home from the markets or shows up hanging like jewels on our bushes and trees. While there's always tarts and jams and vanilla ice cream, there is something more subtle and yielding on which to settle the berries or poached apricot halves.

Panna cotta. Cooked cream. How sweet, how gentle, how dairy and farmgirls milking and bees buzzing and birds chirping in a blue, blue sky.

It's an infinitely adaptable dessert. If you want soft creamy elegance, make it with only cream and the innards of a vanilla bean. If you want something country and lip-smacking, use buttermilk, no vanilla. To take yourself to Provence, add a bay leaf while heating the cream for a haunting woodsy note. Or, if you're married to or otherwise involved with a sour cream addict like I am, use part sour cream, part cream and lash with vanilla extract or a smidge of ginger or grated citrus peel or a combination thereof. Recently, I served the panna cotta below with a generous spooning of strawberries macerated in brown sugar.

Also, I'm a lazy cook and never unmold my panna cotta; I just don't think it is worth the time and wear on the nerves. I just make sure I pour it in pretty ramekins, and that is the last work I have to do before putting it in front of people and watching them devour it.

Sour Cream Panna Cotta
This is straight off of Lynn Rosetta Casper's The Splendid Table. I've made lots of different recipes lots of different ways, but I like her proportions of gelatin to liquid because it guarantees a barely set, custardy cream. It is not at all jello-ish, like other panna cottas I've had. If you'd like to use something other than sour cream and cream, play away. This recipe is quite flexible.

You will need:
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
3 cups whipping cream
scant half cup sugar
generous pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream

To make the dessert:
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and set aside while you prepare the cream. Place a large saucepan over medium heat and pour in the cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Heat, stirring frequently, until the cream is quite warm, but not boiling. Remove the cream from the heat and stir in the gelatin until it is thoroughly incorporated into the cream and there are no lumps. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes.

Spoon the sour cream into a medium bowl and ladle in a half cup or so of the cream mixture. Stir vigorously until completely combined, then repeat the action with another half cup or so. Continue adding the cream a bit at a time until it is completely combined and the mixture is silken.

Choose your prettiest ramekins, arrange them in small roasting pan to allow you to carry them, and carefully pour the mixture into the ramekins, the same portion in each. The number of servings varies on how large your ramekins are and how full you choose to fill them, but you can make six full ramekins or stretch this as far as ten. I like to leave a generous lip of space under the rim of the ramekin so I can spoon on some fresh fruit when I serve the little sweeties. Cover the whole pan with tinfoil and place it in the refrigerator to chill. Chill for at least four hours.

Go kick up your heels in the grass; frolic and play and pick flowers and laugh. It's springtime. Make dessert.


Gloria said...

It never even occurred to me to make panna cotta with my goatie's cream. Thanks for the inspiration!

michelle said...

I do love panna cotta, except when it's rubbery from too much gelatin. Gotta try this version. Lovely flower photos, thanks!

Meghan (Making Love In The Kitchen) said...

Sounds delicious and your photos were perfectly 'nice' and sweet for spring.

ashley english said...

hi there! i wasn't sure how else to contact you, but i wanted to let you know that i wrote lynn hirshfield, author of "girls gone green" about your interest in getting her book for your students. she offered to give you several free copies! if you'll write me personally, i can get your contact info. and connect you with lynn: ashleyadamsenglish (at) gmail (dot) com.

Christina said...

Gloria: Hooray for goaties' cream. I hope the panna cotta turns out well for you.

Michelle: You're welcome. I took a trip to Descanso Gardens this week, and the CA native garden is in full bloom. It was pretty darn spectacular. I tried to take good pictures of the fremontia which were bathed in gold, but I just was unable to capture how beautiful they were.

Meghan: Thanks!

Ashley: You rock, woman. I just shot you an email.

Anonymous said...

I've decided to really enjoy what promises to be the last rain of the season. Things are looking particularly wonderful this spring.

Christina said...

AH: I didn't expect the rain that happened this afternoon. In fact, there was no rain where I work. I came home after work and saw that we'd had a fresh spurt--someone told me it even hailed. And yes, this rain is making for some real beauty.

Unknown said...

I have a tattoo on my wrist that is a green vine with two ladybugs on that photo!

I always feel so serene after visiting.