It’s so nice to have the warm weather back. The sun stays out longer, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and I love it. After such a long winter, it’s so refreshing to finally be in the heart of spring, with summer right around the corner.
With the warm weather, I get excited about summer clothes and outdoor activities, but I also get excited about summer food. Just like swapping sweaters for t-shirts, I think most people also change their eating habits in the summer, even if they don’t realize it. Instead of the heavy stews, we start eating dinner salads and lighter meals. We start to replace the starchy vegetables for fresh summer produce. And, we no longer crave the rich desserts like bread pudding, but start to focus on lighter desserts with fruit, like panna cotta with balsamic strawberries.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with panna cotta, but it’s a delicious, creamy dessert that’s surprisingly simple to make. Panna cotta literally means cooked cream in Italian, and the cream is really the star of the dessert. It’s delicious sweetened cream that takes on a creamy, semisolid texture. And ok, ok, I’ll admit it, it does have cream, so I guess it’s not as light as I said. But it’s cool and has a light, creamy texture that’s perfect for summer.
To start, you’ll need 1 quart heavy cream. Pour about a cup of it in a bowl and sprinkle in 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin. It ends up being a total of .5 oz of gelatin. Let that begin to dissolve while you heat the rest of the cream in a saucepan over medium heat with 1 cup sugar. You want to heat this mixture until the cream warms and the sugar dissolves. It should only take a few minutes, but make sure you stir so the cream doesn’t burn. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the gelatin mixture. Continue to stir until the gelatin dissolves in the cream.
Once the gelatin has dissolved, you can remove the cream mixture from the heat. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla, and that’s it. Your panna cotta is done. You just need to pour the mixture into molds and allow it to chill. You can pour the whole thing into a big bowl, so that you just scoop out the solidified mixture once it’s cooled, or you can pour the mixture into single serve molds that you can then unmold for a great presentation. I just used small 1 7/8 cup rectangular Pyrex containers, but you can really use anything you like. Once you pour the mixture into whatever container/containers you’re using, put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to cool and solidify. I made mine the night before. And don’t cover them when they are hot, or you’ll end up with water in your panna cotta.
While that is chilling, you can make the strawberries. Simmer 1 cup balsamic vinegar for 10-15 minutes until reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons honey. Allow the mixture to cool, then add 1 lb sliced strawberries. That’s pretty much it. Let the strawberries stay at room temperature for a while so the flavors meld.
After several hours or overnight, when the panna cotta has solidified, you can unmold (or scoop and serve if you’re not unmolding). Simply run a knife around the edges to loosen, then set in warm water for a few seconds. That should melt the edges just a bit and loosen the panna cotta. Just put a plate on top of the mold and flip it. You may have to tap a bit to get it out. To serve, scoop some of the strawberries with the balsamic reduction around the plate, and that’s it. Enjoy!
Oh, and this recipe is great, but really, the panna cotta is great with anything. It’s delicious with some chocolate sauce, or just some fresh fruit or berries, or just plain, on it’s own. It’s cool, creamy, and delicious.