Small, Good Things: Getting Jiggly

By Joe Dizney

This week I thought I’d explore two different takes — one sweet, one savory — on a very simple but infinitely flexible recipe — panna cotta.

Ostensibly and literally “boiled milk,” panna cotta is an eggless custard traditional to Italy’s Piedmont region. Normally a dessert preparation of milk and heavy cream, seasoned with sugar and vanilla (and occasionally rum or coffee), it was originally thickened or jelled by boiling fish bones in the mixture, a process that sounds really disgusting and has been thankfully replaced by the addition of prepared, powdered gelatin.

In either case, the net result is basically creamy Jell-O for adults. In a break from tradition, I’ve replaced the heavy cream with full-fat, Greek-style yogurt, which provides a cheesy tang to both proceedings.

For the sweet version, the seasoning is played pretty straight — vanilla. The kicker here is the finish: Bananas in lime syrup are an unaccountably simple lift from molecular gastronomist Ferran Adrià’s The Family Meal cookbook. Toasted coconut seems a no-brainer.

The savory version here is a take on an appetizer once enjoyed at Chicago’s Green Zebra restaurant. Horseradish panna cotta was paired with perfect roasted heirloom beets. In the absence of those perfect beets, I’m adding the sweet and crunchy distraction of Granny Smith apples and toasted walnuts, all of which marry pretty well with the tangy horseradish. Since I’m a confirmed carnivore, horseradish always makes me think “beef,” and as an optional addition to this dinner salad, I’m suggesting a few rolled slices of bresaola (cured, air-dried beef available at Marbled Meat Shop).

That’s all it takes, really. Kid stuff.

Horseradish Yogurt Panna Cotta With Roasted Beets, Apples and Bresaola

1 hour prep; 3+ hours refrigeration; serves 6

For the Panna Cotta:

½ cup whole milk

¼ ounce unflavored gelatin powder (1 envelope or ½ tablespoon)*

2 tablespoons prepared grated horseradish

24 ounces whole-milk Greek-type yogurt
salt and ground (white) pepper to taste

For the Beets, Apples and Vinaigrette:

3 medium beets, peeled and cubed into ½-inch dice

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small shallot, minced

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

About ½ cup olive or walnut oil, or a combination

2 Granny Smith apples

Juice of one lemon

8 ounces cleaned watercress or arugula

½ cup chopped walnuts (toasted at 350 degrees for 6 minutes), optional

¼ to ½ pound thinly sliced bresaola (rolled into cigar shapes), optional

In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over the milk and let sit for 5 minutes to moisten. Over low heat, whisk until gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat, cool slightly. In a bowl or large spouted measuring cup, combine milk, horseradish and yogurt; mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Portion about 1/3 cup into individual molds. Cover and chill at least 3 hours (to overnight) until set.

Heat oven to 450. Toss peeled cubed beets with the oil, salt and pepper, and spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Toss briefly and toast for another 10 to 15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes that they don’t burn. Remove to a small bowl and cool.

Horseradish Panna Cotta

Horseradish Panna Cotta

For the vinaigrette: Macerate the shallots, vinegar, a pinch of salt and ground pepper and the Dijon in a small bowl or measuring cup. Whisk in the ½ cup olive and/or walnut oil. Pour half over the beets and toss; reserve remainder.

Fill a small bowl with cool water and lemon juice. Peel and core the apples; cut into ½-inch dice. Submerge apples in water/lemon bath to stop discoloration. Just before serving, drain the apples thoroughly and toss them lightly with the reserved vinaigrette.

To serve: Form a bed of the greens on a plate. One at a time, warm the outside of molded panna cottas for 10 to 15 seconds in hot water to just loosen the edge, taking care not to wet the mixture. Run a knife along the edges of the mold and invert each onto a bed of greens. Spoon a portion of the beets and apples on either side of the unmolded panna cottas. Garnish with a few chopped walnuts and bresaola, if using.

*Vegetarians may want to substitute an equal measure of powdered agar-agar, available at health food stores.

Vanilla Yogurt Panna Cotta with Bananas in Lime Syrup and Toasted Coconut

½ hour prep; 3+ hours refrigeration; serves 4

For the Panna Cotta:

½ cup whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split, scraped, and seeds reserved

½ cup raw sugar

¼ ounces unflavored gelatin powder (1 envelope or ½ tablespoon)*

24 ounces whole-milk Greek-type yogurt

For the Bananas in Lime Syrup:

6 tablespoons raw sugar

2/3 cup water

2 limes, juiced with zest grated and reserved

4 to 6 ripe bananas, sliced

1 cup coconut chips or flakes, lightly toasted in a 350-degree oven

Warm the milk, vanilla bean with seeds and sugar in a small saucepan on low simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and steep for 15 minutes. Remove vanilla bean.

Sprinkle gelatin over the surface of the milk and let sit for 5 minutes to moisten. Return to low heat and whisk until gelatin is completely dissolved and remove from heat.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Vanilla Panna Cotta

In a bowl or large measuring cup with spout, whisk/combine milk/gelatin mixture and yogurt. Pour about ½ cup each into 12-ounce glasses or bowls. (This leaves room for the bananas and garnish.) Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours (to overnight) for mixture to jell.

For the bananas: In a small saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat. Pour into a bowl and cool; stir in lime juice and zest. Peel and slice the bananas into the lime syrup; cover and refrigerate before serving, at least one hour and no more than six.

To serve: Spoon bananas and some lime syrup over the panna cotta; garnish with toasted coconut chips.

*Vegetarians may want to substitute an equal measure of powdered agar-agar, available at health food stores.

Photos by J.Dizney

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