Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vanilla Panna Cotta, Basil, Mango

Once upon a time, there was a restaurant in Montreal called Brunoise.  Their food was so delightful that it was worth the 5 hour drive from Boston.  It was familiar, yet slightly exotic, classic, but with contemporary flair, and most importantly it was executed comme il faut (if you don't know what it means, you should watch Mostly Martha).  I have a tragic streak in me that makes me fall in love with doomed restaurants.  Brunoise didn't survive.  Last time I've eaten there was probably 10 years ago, yet I find its influence in my cooking to this day.

Brunoise' signature desserts was panna cotta with basil syrup and passion fruit.  Unfortunately, I can't seem to find passion fruit worth eating in Boston, so I replaced it with a pureed mango.  You can improvise with all sorts of fruit: strawberries, figs, cherries.  

The star of the show here is basil and there are many ways you can play with this basil sauce to produce different effects.  You can pour it on top of panna cotta before serving, or you can pour some of it into the cream preparation before it congeals and make swirls with a toothpick.  You'll have plenty of basil sauce leftover, but it freezes well and is good in many desserts.

Basil Sauce
1 oz basil leaves (about 1 cup packed)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup neutral oil (grapeseed, safflower, canola)
1 Tbsp honey
a squirt of lemon juice

Bring 6 cups of water and 2 Tbsp sugar to a boil.  Prepare an ice-bath.  Put basil into a fine mesh strainer and submerge in the pot with boiling water for 30 seconds.
Shock in ice water.  Remove and squeeze out the liquid.
Puree a blender with oil, honey, and a squirt of lemon juice.
Stir well before using.  Store in the fridge for a few days or freeze.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Serves 6

2 Tbsp water (30g)
1 1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin (3.5g)
2 cups whipping (or heavy) cream (464g)
1 1/4 cups thick Greek whole-milk yogurt (283g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar (66g)
  1. Put water into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it. Let stand for 10 minutes or until gelatin softens. 
  2. In a large bowl combine 1 cup cream, yogurt, and vanilla and whisk until smooth. I use a large (4 cup) glass measuring cup with a spout to make pouring of panna cotta into cups in Step 4 easier. 
  3. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup of cream with sugar and bring to a simmer while stirring. Remove from heat, and add softened gelatin. Stir until gelatin dissolves.
  4. Pour the hot cream mixture into the cool yogurt cream mixture and whisk until smooth. Divide the mixture among 6 ramekins, tea cups, or small bowls, pouring 1/2 cup into each. 
  5. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

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