Sunday, September 4, 2011

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

It's not the strawberry time of year here- I understand this.
I know you can get them all year, but just because they're available doesn't mean you should.

They can be flavorless and scentless, and the color and texture aren't so great.
I mean, who really wants a strawberry that crunches like an apple?
THIS is a way they can be salvaged.
(No, I'm not saying that I want them salvaged year-round. I don't think I can advocate for that sort of thing, it's so... unnatural.)

Balsamic vinegar can do wonders for strawberries, it's amazing.
I guess it can be likened to what coffee can do for chocolate. The one wakes up the other and makes it become something better than it could be on it's own. It's complimentary.
Not that it goes the other way. I can't advocate having a bite of strawberry with your bottle of balsamic vinegar.

But a little vinegar gives the strawberries lightly acidic-tart syrupy sweetness a kick of flavor that many people wouldn't be able to put their finger on... same thing goes for the black pepper (the kick, not the syrup).
The other thing is that the vinegary flavor and syrupy texture cut the creamy richness of the creamy panna cotta. It's a great combination.

I find that I'm (very obviously) partial to ramekins and the neat serving size and shape they offer to a dessert.
Crèmes, custards, souffles... you name it.
I seem to have a penchant for those kinds of things.
In my opinion, the smaller size of a 6 oz. ramekin is perfect, and 10-12 of them completely filled fit this recipe.
For a get together in my family, most of the times I cook for a group of people, or a dinner party, this is pretty much the number of servings I'd usually have to deal with.
However, I understand that this may not be a normal issue that other people regularly have to deal with. And so, the recipe is easily halved.

A little note on gelatin:
Gelatin isn't always what it seems. The little packages don't always have the same amount from individual envelope to individual envelope. So, it's a good idea to measure your gelatin. Too much won't yield a fantastic texture, and (conversely), too little is no good either.

Remember that the panna cotta must be made the night before. It's nice that you don't have to worry about the last minute thing, but at the same time you need a little forethought.

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries
Adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home
Serves 10-12

2 t powdered gelatin
3 T cold water
2 c whole milk plain yogurt
2 c heavy (whipping) cream
1 c half and half (light cream)
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
3/4 c sugar
1/8 t salt (a large pinch)

2 lb. (32 oz.) strawberries
2 rounded T sugar
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
4 T balsamic vinegar

In a small bowl sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Set aside to soften while working on the rest of the recipe.
In a large bowl whisk together the yogurt, 1 1/2 c whipping cream, and vanilla. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds in the bowl with the yogurt mixture and stir them in.
Heat the last 1/2 c whipping cream, the half and half, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir occasionally. When the sugar is just dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Whisk the warm cream mixture into the cold yogurt mixture until fully combined. Ladle into waiting ramekins and refrigerate overnight.

Wash and slice the strawberries, and place them in a large bowl. About 3o minutes prior to serving, toss the strawberries, sugar, pepper, and vinegar together. Let sit to macerate a bit and gently fold the mixture a few times so all the berries are evenly coated and release their juices.

To unmold the panna cottas, run a thin, sharp blade directly along the inside wall of the ramekin. Dip the bottom of the ramekin in a pan or sink of hot water for a few seconds. Overturn the ramekin onto a plate and, holding both tightly with both hands, shake the plate and ramekin until you hear and feel the panna cotta release from the ramekin. Gently pull the ramekin off the plate and spoon balsamic strawberries around the panna cotta to serve.


  1. I've never tried panna cotta before. What is the texture like and is it really sweet? Thanks. With only 3/4 cup sugar for that many servings it wouldn't seem like it would be too sweet, and with all the cream, yogurt etc., it might be enough protein and fat to not make my blood sugars spike. I'm always open to trying new tasty desserts that may not bother my pregnancy induced diabetes. Thanks!