Lemon Buttermilk Panna Cottas with Balsamic Strawberries
Panna cotta may well be my new favorite dessert (after ice cream, of course.) There’s just something so sublime about the cool, creamy, light, subtly slippery texture of a luscious spoonful of this dessert going down. I’ve been panna cotta crazy lately: the first I tried was the Barefoot Contessa’s vanilla bean panna cotta with balsamic strawberries (excellent — so good, in fact, that we scarfed them down without me getting any pictures). The second one we had late last week: lemon buttermilk panna cottas, which I also paired with balsamic strawberries. I’ll share that one with you today, and tell you about the next one I tried later on this week.
“Panna cotta” literally means “cooked cream” in Italian, and though there are many variations on the ingredients, at its heart there’s cream, milk, and sugar which are simmered together, then mixed with a small amount of gelatin and chilled. The resulting dessert can be served in its cup or unmolded, and is just firm enough to hold together, not rubbery-jiggly like jello. Panna cotta will ever-so-delicately quiver if you lightly touch it with your spoon; it’s delightful, really!
I’ve decided that panna cottas are going to be my go-to dessert this summer; they’re easy to pull together, require no hot oven, can chill in the fridge all day (and overnight, and the next night too), look very pretty, taste amazing, and lend themselves to endless variations. Is that enough reason to try them?? I think so!
This lemon buttermilk variation would be delicious paired with fresh blueberries, too. Stay tuned for panna cotta number two later on this week!
Oh, and here’s a bonus (non-food-related) picture: besides all the wonderful spring fruit (i.e. strawberries!) and vegetables we’re reveling in right now, I also love seeing all the newborn animals making their appearances around us…we came across this little faun and her mother near our house the other day.
Lemon Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries
Adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2007
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup whipping cream (heavy cream)
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-2 tablespoons sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)
a grind or two of black pepper
If you’re going to serve your panna cottas unmolded, rub the insides of 6 ramekins or custard cups with a little vegetable oil on a paper towel, just to lightly grease them. If you’re going to serve the panna cottas in their cups, you can skip this step (and you can use any kind of serving cup — juice glasses work just as well as ramekins.)
In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, lemon zest, and sugar to a simmer. While that mixture is heating up, pour the water over the gelatin in a small bowl just to soften it. Once the cream mixture has reached a simmer, stir in the gelatin and whisk to ensure it completely dissolves. Pour this cream mixture through a mesh strainer (I do this just to strain out the lemon zest so the texture is completely smooth, but you can skip this step if you like) into a large liquid measuring cup. Let it cool briefly (about 5 minutes), then stir in the 2 teaspoons of vanilla and the buttermilk. Whisk to thoroughly combine.
Divide the mixture among the 6 cups, cover and chill for at least 4 hours.
About half an hour before you’re ready to serve the panna cottas, place the sliced strawberries in a bowl with the balsamic vinegar, a grind or two of black pepper, and the sugar. Stir and let them sit at room temperature for about a half an hour, to bring out the juices.
Serve panna cottas unmolded with the balsamic strawberries drizzled around, or in their cups with the strawberries on top. To unmold, just run a sharp knife around the inside edge of the cups and invert onto a plate.