Friday, May 27, 2011

Strawberry-Topped Buttermilk Panna Cotta

It’s a sure sign that summer can’t be far away when the first local strawberries of the season show up at farmers’ markets in New York City. What a difference between these and the over-sized, cottony brand-names ones from California! It pains me to buy those plastic-

looking berries (though they are great for making a tree centerpiece at Christmastime), and I really only do so when I’m desperate and local ones are out of season. I spotted some fresh-picked strawberries at the market today, along with beautiful pink stalks of 

rhubarb, and was struck by the urge to make strawberry-rhubarb jam. But since I featured a Strawberry Rhubarb Compote here recently, I decided instead to make one of my favorite desserts, panna cotta, and top it with the sliced berries. It’s a play on the 

classic strawberries and cream, and it makes a refreshing and delicious dessert. The panna cotta is made tangy with buttermilk (feel free to substitute milk or cream, if you like your panna cotta less tangy), while a vanilla bean gives it a fragrant endnote. I macerated the sliced strawberries with a little sugar and lemon juice, which made a saucy topping for the panna cotta. It’s a perfect ending to a spring dinner, with the promise of summer soon to come.
Strawberry-Topped Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Makes 5 servings

Buttermilk Panna Cotta:
3 tablespoons cold water
2 1/4 teaspoons powdered gelatin
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
½ cup granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Strawberry Topping:
2 cups sliced strawberries
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Make the panna cotta:
1. Put the water in a small cup and sprinkle over the gelatin; let it soften for 2 minutes.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla bean pod and seeds until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the softened gelatin until dissolved. Pour through a sieve into a clean bowl and place in an ice bath until room temperature.
3. Stir in the buttermilk and divide the mixture among 5 dessert glasses or verrines (a little more than 2/3 cup in each). Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

Make the strawberry topping:
4. Combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, until the berries release their liquid and become saucy.

5. Spoon some Strawberry Topping on top of each panna cotta and serve immediately.