Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Blackberry Compote

Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert that literally means 'cooked cream'. Wonderfully light and delicious, panna cotta is one of the easiest desserts to make and also one of the most impressive. There are many variations to the recipe, but it's generally made by simmering together some cream, sugar and vanilla, and then mixing in some dissolved gelatin. The panna cotta is then chilled until set. That's it.

Simple ingredients: Cream, sugar, vanilla and gelatin

Panna cotta, a custard-like pudding with a rich velvety texture, takes just minutes to prepare, and is the perfect dessert for dinner parties as it can be made ahead of time and look great served as individual puddings. I made my Vanilla Panna Cotta using a vanilla pod rather than vanilla extract. The pod is simply sliced open and the aromatic seeds scooped out, which not only adds tiny flecks of vanilla to the pudding, but also gives it a lovely rich fragrance. 

The mixture is simmered with the vanilla

Often served with a berry coulis, panna cotta works brilliantly as a creamy base for all kinds of summer fruits: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, peaches or cherries. You can also infuse the cream with Chambord macerated blackberries or raspberries, and make a gloriously Pink Panna Cotta. Similarly, by adding some grated white or dark chocolate to the cream, you can create a decadent Chocolate Panna Cotta. It can actually be flavoured with any herb, spice or liqueur — the variations are endless. One thing is for certain, panna cotta is so simple, light and delicious, it will quickly become an indispensable part of your culinary repertoire. 

Vanilla Panna Cotta
Serves 4

It's been said that Panna Cotta is so delicate that, if you have angels coming for dinner, Panna Cotta is the dolce to serve!

2 cups half-and-half cream
1/4 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
 or 1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 packet powdered gelatin (about 2 1/4 tsp)

3 tbsp cold water

Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing.

Lightly oil four small ramekins with a neutral-tasting oil.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Place the gelatin into the very warm Panna Cotta mixture and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, which will take two to four hours, or let them chill overnight. If you’re pressed for time, pour the Panna Cotta mixture into wine goblets and serve them in the glasses, without unmolding. You can also make them up to two days ahead but keep them well-covered and chilled.

Gently pull the edges away on the each Panna Cotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, and garnish as desired.

Fruit Compote:
3 cups blackberries or blueberries
1/4 cup zinfandel or other fruity dry red wine
3 tbsp granulated sugar
4 mint sprigs

To prepare compote, place 1 cup of berries, wine, and granulated sugar in a food processor, and process until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a medium saucepan, and discard solids. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add remaining berries. Let cool completely before serving.