Thursday, June 4, 2009

Panna Cotta with Rhubarb Coulis

"Pudding" is one of my least favorite words, especially when the "g" is dropped. Such an awful mixture of letters for such a delightful concoction. Regardless, I'd take custard or pudding over cake any day, even on my birthday. And panna cotta! That just might be my absolute favorite.

I remember the very first time I had it. It was summertime in Switzerland and I was at a friend's house for dinner. After the main meal and salad, they pulled a ceramic dish containing a thick layer of vanilla bean panna cotta out of the refrigerator. We each received a creamy scoop topped with a simple strawberry coulis.


So when I opened my refrigerator and saw two large, exasperated stalks of rhubarb looking back at me, I knew what to do. It was much too hot to bake, and I've served Tristan strawberry rhubarb compote perhaps one time too many. This occasion called for panna cotta with rhubarb coulis.

Despite its elegant appearance, panna cotta is actually a cinch to make. It means "cooked cream" in Italian and requires a simple simmering of milk, cream and sugar, followed by the addition of gelatin and time to set. It's mind boggling how a dessert consisting of half heavy cream can be so light and refreshing, but it is. And the tartness of the pretty pink sauce goes extraordinarily well with the sweet, eggless custard.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
Pour milk into medium saucepan; sprinkle surface evenly with gelatin and let stand 5 minutes to hydrate gelatin. With paring knife, split vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape vanilla seeds out of each half; place seeds and pod in saucepan with milk. Add sugar.

Wisk milk mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream.

Remove vanilla pods. Ladle cream mixture evenly into 4 ramekins (I often use mismatched jam jars
, ramekins and mise en place dishes. Champagne glasses work well, too). Refrigerate, covered, until set, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Rhubarb Coulis
2 large stalks rhubarb, cleaned, trimmed and cut into 1/3-inch pieces
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water

In a medium saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar and water. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until rhubarb is fall-apart tender. For a smoother sauce, either cook longer or transfer mixture to a blender and pulse until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve panna cotta in their ramekins topped with a layer of rhubarb coulis. Alternately, panna cotta can be unmolded onto a plate and drizzled with coulis. In this case, be sure to rinse ramekins with cool water --do not dry-- before ladling in the cream.

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