Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries

Strawberry season is in full swing and roadside stands and farmers' markets are offering a bounty of this glorious fruit which heralds the onset of summer. With its vibrant color and sweet taste, is there any fruit more irresistible than a strawberry? If you are lucky enough to have them growing in your own garden, you know the joy of reaching down into the green foliage to find the ripest, reddest sun-kissed one and bringing it to your mouth for a juicy bite.

Growing up on the farm, my father always kept a strawberry patch in the corner of the garden.  Early mornings would find me on my knees picking berries, filling box after box of the ripe fruit, leaving the half-ripe ones for the next day's harvest. Later, we would carry all the boxes into the summer kitchen of our house where mom and I would sit with trays of berries in our lap, cutting the stems off.  Then we would give them a gentle rinse and smash them with a hand-held strawberry chopper, add a bit of sugar, and scoop them into quart size boxes to store in the freezer for the long winter months ahead.  Our harvest usually yielded about 75 quarts of berries and we enjoyed these throughout the year as a topping for ice cream or spooned into a bowl with other frozen fruits such as blueberries and peaches.

While the most popular way to eat strawberries in our family is with shortcake and milk, I decided to try them on top of panna cotta, my favorite Italian dessert. The taste did not disappoint!  The smooth and slightly wobbly texture of the panna cotta topped with the freshness of just-picked berries was perfect, similar to eating strawberries and ice cream.  So here's to summer!

The strawberry chopper I have used for years is made by Kwik-Kut Manufacturing Company.  The Warther knife was my mother's. 

Mashing the berries releases the sweetest flavor.  I love using this method for maceration instead of slicing them.

Ramekins lined up on a silver tray, cooling to room temperature.

The panna cotta is slightly wobbly and oh-so-creamy.

Panna Cotta with Strawberries

(Fills 8 small ramekins or 4 large ones)

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 envelope (.25 oz) unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Step 1:  Pour the milk and gelatin into a bowl and whisk once or twice. Allow to set for about five minutes or so to let the gelatin dissolve while you start the next step.

Step 2:  Pour the heavy cream and sugar into a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot and heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly.

Step 3:  When the cream has reached a boil, pour the milk and gelatin mixture into the cream. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly.

Step 4:  Remove from heat, add the vanilla.

Step 5:  Pour into ramekins and let set until cooled to room temperature.  When it reaches room temperature, cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Strawberry Sauce:

2 cups of whole strawberries, tops removed
1/8 cup white sugar (adjust to taste)

Mash strawberries with a strawberry chopper or process gently with a food processor.  Stir in the sugar and allow to macerate for at least a half hour.  Cover and refrigerate if not using immediately.

To serve:

Gently run a sharp knife around edges of the panna cotta and turn the ramekin upside down onto a dessert plate. (If the panna cotta does not unmold, run a bit of hot tap water over the bottom of the ramekin - while it's inverted in your hand - and it should pop right out.  Spoon strawberry sauce over the top and serve.


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