We were so lazy on Tuesday. Seriously, I don’t know if there were four people on the planet having more trouble keeping their heads up than Tejal, Glyn, Stephen, and me yesterday. We were old dog lying in a warm spot on the porch lazy.
Tejal and Glyn had attended a going away to-do the night before while Stephen and I saw an A’s game, stayed for the fireworks afterward, and indulged in midnight BLTs at Mel’s. Naturally, we chose not to mount an elaborate Independence Day hullaballoo. I roused myself long enough to make a chickpea and goat cheese dip with some spicy olive relish, Glyn made burgers and some terribly yummy vidalia onion spread. Dessert would have been a no go had I not recently come into an enormous amount of strawberries.
I have a habit of buying huge qualities of fruit from roadside stands, despite the fact that as a member of two-person household, five pounds of nectarines are likely to rot before they ever get eaten. I recently fell prey to eight pints of very ripe strawberries for five dollars. I knew chances weren’t great that I’d think of a way to use them before they went squishy, but darn it, I had to try. After two days, the berry smell that rolled out of the fridge when the door was opened almost knocked me down. It was time for action
I started by sorting out the hopelessly soft berries, and luckily (or unluckily, considering I was trying to get rid of them), I only lost a pint. Next I separated out about a pint and a half of the firmest berries to be left whole. The rest I puréed, figuring that a few cups of crimson liquid would freeze more gracefully than a few pints of berries.
Enter the panna cotta. Most my favorite desserts, from homemade ice cream to creme brulée, are custardy in nature. While I often make these at home, my favorite alternative for lazy days or dinner parties is panna cotta. Italian for “cooked cream,” it’s a symphony of dairy, barely firmed with the addition of gelatin. The silky, sexy texture is refreshing and refined, yet it requires about the same amount of effort as a milkshake, with none of a true custard’s laborious stirring.
Since I usually serve panna cotta with fruit, I’d been wondering about including fruit purée into the mixture itself. As I’d just found myself with a surplus of just such a substance, I threw together with cream and buttermilk, and stuck it in to chill.
On Tuesday, when it was time to schlep down to El Granada for our entirely low-key Independence Day dinner, dessert was ready to tag along. After we’d eaten our burgers and spent a few minutes lying still to recover from the exertion of chewing, all I had to do was unmold the panna cotta and spoon over some macerated berries. The smooth, tangy dessert was a happy pink color, and came together in the blink of an eye, making it perfect for a lazy summer day.
Strawberry Buttermilk Panna Cotta
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 cup strawberry purée
1/2 cup & 1 tablespoon sugar (or a little more)
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons cointreau (optional)
1 packet gelatin
Bring the buttermilk to room temprature. Sprinkly the gelatin over three tablespoons water and set aside to soften. Heat the cream and purée, stir in the sugar and vanilla bean, and bring just to a boil.
Take the cream mixture off the head and stir in the gelatin. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to infuse the vanilla and cool. Temper at least a cup the warm cream into the buttermilk about a tablespoon at a time to bring the buttermilk up to temperature without curdling it. Taste it. You may want to add more sugar, a tablespoon at a time, depending on how tangy you want it to taste.
Ladle the mixture evenly into six bowls, molds or raminkens that have been lightly oiled or sprayed with cooking spray. I like to use flexible plastic bowls (like the kind you’d take to a picnic) as those are easiest to unmold from.
Cover with plastic and chill for at least six hours, or as long as two or three days. Try to gently pull the panna cottas from the side of the bowl. If they stick, dip the bowl into hot water for 30-60 seconds to soften. Unmold, spoon the macerated strawberries and juice. over the top, and serve.
Dice a pint (or thereabouts) of strawberries. Mix with honey and cointreau to taste, as well as a thin basil chiffonade. Let it sit for about an hour.