Thursday, March 1, 2012

Valentine's Day Dessert: Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Peppered Berry Coulis

Though pretty much ready to burst after all of that duck and cauliflower, dessert remained.  We lingered over our dinner plates for a long while and continued to enjoy our wine to allow ourselves to digest a bit in the name of stuffing ourselves further.  Thankfully, my menu planning was done under the assumption that we'd be in a state of near (or over-) satiety after the entree, so dessert was light.  

One of the benefits of preparing your own food, as opposed to eating out, is that you are in control of what goes into it. Which is all well and good when you're cooking healthfully.  Obviously the flip side is that you know precisely what has gone into your food, and sometimes a rich chocolate dessert does not seem like the very best idea after your kale caesar, or your butter and wine-sauced duck.  This is all to say that I eschewed chocolate on Valentine's day.  Better to leave a romantic meal feeling rejuvenated by a bright dessert than stuffed and comatose after caloric overload.  Besides, Robbie loves panna cotta, and there is something almost sensual about its smooth, delicate, velvety nature.

Of course, let's be clear, this isn't exactly health food either - things with heavy cream rarely are, unfortunately.  But this panna cotta is tangy, bright, delicious, and shockingly easy to make.  The buttermilk lends an almost yogurt-like quality, which was played up by the vanilla and the berries on top - like your breakfast parfait snuck under the bleachers and took up with the Skanks.  

Though I've yet to try, I imagine this recipe takes well to adaptation; as a coffee yogurt lover (of both the frozen and non-frozen varieties), I already know where I'll be taking it next.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Peppered Berry Sauce

Makes 6 servings

The original recipe from Bon Appetit makes enough for six ramekins.  Since we were only two, I halved the recipe and since I have but a single ramekin, I poured the mixture into big mugs, which worked just fine.  Since I'm no panna cotta expert, I decided not to futz around with the recipe otherwise, so it's merely copied below from Epicurious.    

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pour 2 tablespoons water into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes. Lightly spray six 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups with nonstick spray.

Heat cream, lemon peel, and sugar in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring just to low boil, stirring occasionally. Add gelatin mixture; remove from heat. Stir until gelatin dissolves. Cool mixture to lukewarm, stirring often. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; divide mixture among prepared ramekins. Refrigerate panna cotta until set, about 4 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

Using small sharp knife, cut around panna cotta in each ramekin. Place plate atop each ramekin and invert, allowing panna cotta to settle onto plate.

Peppered Berry Sauce
Makes 3 servings

The Bon Appetit recipe suggests a simple thawed frozen berry topping for the panna cotta.  I took it a bit further and cooked the berries on the stovetop for a little while to add some extra oomph.  I didn't quite measure what I added to that pot, but what follows is an approximation. Note that these are the amounts I used to top the halved panna cotta recipe.  While we had leftover sauce (which, as predicted, were awesome in yogurt), you may wish to double this recipe if making the full batch. Also, don't do what I did and top the cold panna cotta with hot berries - I suggest waiting just a couple of minutes for them to cool down just a tad.

1/2 package frozen mixed berries, or approximately 6 ounces, thawed 
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper (or more, depending on your tastes)

Place the berries in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, add the salt, sugar and two tablespoons of water.  Cook until the sugar is dissolved and the berries are warmed through and starting to break down a bit.  Add the lemon juice and black pepper and stir to combine.  Adjust pepper to taste.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before spooning atop panna cotta.

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