You might think that because I like to cook, my refrigerator is perpetually well-stocked with a bounty of beautiful produce, fine meats, and ripe cheeses. This could not be further from the truth. On most days, the contents of my fridge could be summarized as follows: Condiments and booze.
Jars of mustard, jams, Sriracha, a few stray beers, olives, nut oils, cornichons, capers, butter, bottles of wine, a hunk of parmesan…Oh, and milk for that most important meal of the day, my morning coffee. I live alone and I go out to eat a lot, so I tend to buy fresh products as I need them to avoid having to throw out the things that will inevitably go slimy before I can use them. Thus, a look into my refrigerator does not exactly present a picture of healthy, balanced eating.
As of yesterday, for example, the shelves were dominated by four stalks of rhubarb, a metric ton of crème fraîche, a pint of regular heavy cream and a quart of buttermilk, minus the small amount I used to start the crème fraîche. That’s a whole lot of lactose.
I had been waiting not-so-patiently for rhubarb to be available this year, so when I saw it I bought it without knowing what I would do with it. Given the current dairy glut on West 10th Street, panna cotta seemed like an obvious choice.
It’s one of the easiest desserts I can think of. You simply heat some cream and/or milk with some sugar, add gelatin, pour the mixture into molds, chill it and wait. It can be infused or left plain. This version is made with buttermilk and is subtly flavored with lemon and orange zest.
Gelatin scares some people, and not just vegans. It can be a little tricky if you’ve never worked with it before. For tips on working with gelatin, please read this post by David Lebovitz. He explains it all better than I ever could.
The rhubarb is cooked with plenty of sugar and, again, some citrus zest. It may seem like a lot of sugar, but unadulterated rhubarb is very, very sour. If you like it more tart than I do, use less. Cook and stir it gently; you want it to be soft but not mushy, and it will quickly go from one to the other if you aren’t careful. I cut the rhubarb into 1 1/2 inch lengths, but feel free to cut it smaller, keeping in mind that it won’t take as long to cook.
Panna cotta can be served in whatever you chilled it in or unmolded onto a plate. I like any excuse to use Grandma’s pretty stemware, so I got out the old dessert glasses, even though I don’t have company coming over. No, I’ll eat most of this myself. Probably for breakfast.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Rhubarb Compote
For the panna cotta:
2 c heavy cream
1 strip of orange zest
2 strips lemon zest
6 T sugar
4 t unflavored powdered gelatin (slightly less than 2 envelopes)
6 T cold water
2 c buttermilk
a tiny pinch of salt
a drop of two of vanilla extract
1. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, and orange and lemon zests and cook gently over low heat until the mixture is hot and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.
2. Put the cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface. Make sure all of the gelatin is being moistened. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so, and then stir the moistened gelatin into the warm cream to dissolve. If the cream has cooled to much, rewarm it over low heat until the gelatin has dissolved.
3. Let the cream cool to room temperature and then stir in the buttermilk (If the cream is hot when you add the buttermilk, the buttermilk may separate and the final product will not be smooth). Strain the mixture into a measuring cup with a pour spout and pour into ramekins or glasses. Chill thoroughly to set, at least 6 hours.
For the rhubarb compote:
12 oz rhubarb, cut into 1 or 1 1/2″ pieces (split the stalks lengthwise if they are very thick)
1/2 c sugar
1 t finely grated orange zest
1 t finely grated lemon zest
2 t freshly squeezed lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan or skillet and cook gently over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, the rhubarb has released its juices, and the rhubarb is soft, about 10-12 minutes. Chill.
If you’ve set the panna cotta in serving glasses, simply top each glass with a little bit of compote. Othewise, unmold the panna cottas on to individual plates along with a spoonful of the rhubarb.
serves 6-8, depending on the size of your glasses or molds.