I have had a strange relationship with panna cotta. A weird fact about me; until about the age of 14 I was an extremely fussy eater. I couldn't handle any amount of chilli, I hated most vegetables and hardly ate any seafood. I'd rather stay home and eat a bowl of spaghetti bolognese than go out with my family and eat Malaysian hawker food. All those years living in KL were completely wasted on me. Sad, I know. But I remember on my first visit to Melbourne we went to this Italian restaurant (which I totally can't remember anymore) and I had my first vanilla bean panna cotta. I fell in love. It was so silky smooth and creamy with little pops of vanilla bean and just the right amount of wobble from the gelatine; it was heaven on a plate. My brother and I spent the better half of the next year trying to recreate that panna cotta at home, trying all kinds of gelatine leaves and all sorts of recipes but we could never get it quite right. But I like to think that was the end of my fussy period and the start of my love of trying new things.
So panna cottas have a special place in my heart. Unfortunately they did seem to become the default dessert on the menu at a lot of restaurants all over the place for a couple of years, so it became a little bit less exciting for me. But I still love it. This weekend we had a BBQ and I decided to try a bit of an untraditional panna cotta, flavouring it with fresh strawberries instead of vanilla bean. I thought it would be a nice refreshing way to end the day after all that meat. And since it's coming into the cooler months of the year, some roasted rhubarb was the perfect way to top off these pretty pink panna cottas.
I found a great recipe for strawberry panna cotta from Gourmet (link below). It's really packed full of strawberry flavour, and surprisingly smooth even though it uses powdered gelatine instead of leaves. But feel free to try to convert it to gelatine leaves if you prefer. Unfortunately I made the mistake of chilling them in the top shelf of my fridge (the rest of it was packed full of sausages and potato salad), which made some of them freeze a little and ruined the smooth texture a little. Bummer. But the flavour was still great, and the roasted rhubarb had such a vibrant colour and tasted amazing with the strawberry.
The one bad thing about collecting props from all over the place is that I rarely have more than 3 of the same serving glass. So I used all sorts of random glasses and teacups to hold my panna cottas. I thought the tea cups were pretty cute but sometimes you can't go past a regular clear serving glass, especially when the dessert has such a pretty colour on its own! Either way, this dessert went down so well at the end of our BBQ and really is the perfect light way to end any meal.
Strawberry Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb
(adapted from Gourmet, serves 6)
2 punnets (500g) sliced strawberries
1 3/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
6 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp gelatine powder
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup pure/heavy cream (min 35% fat unthickened)
Blend strawberries, buttermilk, and sugar in a blender/food processor until very smooth, then pour through a very fine sieve into a medium bowl, pressing hard on solids. Discard solids. Sprinkle gelatine over milk in a small bowl and let stand 1 minute to soften. Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved. Whisk cream mixture into strawberry purée and pour equal amounts into 6 molds or serving glasses. Chill molds/glasses, covered, until firm, at least 8 hours.
(If using moulds; dip molds in a small bowl of hot water 2 or 3 seconds, then invert panna cottas onto dessert plates and remove molds.) Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes to soften slightly.
For the roasted rhubarb (from Dorie Greenspan):
450g (1lb, trimmed weight) rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar (or more to taste)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Cut rhubarb into pieces 1-2 inches long (whatever you prefer) and place in a baking dish/roasting pan that will hold them comfortably. Sprinkle over sugar and zest and stir until the rhubarb is covered in sugar. Set aside for about 5 minutes, or just long enough for a little syrup to start to form. Cover baking dish with foil and roast in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Take a peek and if the sugar isn't almost completely melted, stir the rhubarb, re-cover the pan with the foil and roast a few mintues more. Remove the foil and let the rhubarb roast for another 5 minutes or so, until the syrup is bubbling. Remove from oven and cool before serving. Can be prepared the night before serving and chilled in an airtight container.