My mind has a bad habit. It tends to face-plant over a recipe, glares at it, and obsesses over how that recipe “got in the way” of dreaming up bigger, fancier things. For a while, panna cotta seemed like one of those simple and elegant desserts–always unfussy and usually plain.
While panna cotta graces many Italian dinners as a sweet farewell to the antipasti, primo piatto, secondo piatto, and contorno, its presence during the course of the meal, while appreciated, flits away as quickly as a dream ends. In short, it is hard to remember the experience of eating panna cotta because its flavors are so simple and pure that the dolce course seems so subdued relative to the other courses.
However, for a change, this twist on the classic panna cotta intrigued me in a way that I can’t pinpoint. I think it’s the pink. No, I swear, it’s the pink. Wait, I’m not sure. Is it the strawberry or the pink? I am partial to both. Or was it the novelty of trying kefir?
Yes, yes, that’s what it was. My excuse to try a probiotic yogurt smoothie that I have repeatedly seen in ethnic markets! It is a perfectly sound reason to go out of my way after an eight-hour workday, squeeze through the crowded aisles, and lay plush against the foggy windowed doors to gape at the wide array of kefir flavors.
For once, having panna cotta was not anticlimatic. In fact, it piqued my curiosity about all of the imported yogurts. Dare, I say it has opened a new list of things to try. Alas, too many possibilities to muse over while sampling what I originally thought of as a simple Italian dessert.
This panna cotta is slightly tangy, lightly flavored of strawberry, and extremely silky. It is the kind of dessert that you would like to whisk you away from the summer heat, as you laze by the porch staring out into the sunset.
Strawberry Kefir Panna Cotta
Adapted from Food Gal
3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups lowfat strawberry kefir or your favorite flavor
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (I found the vanilla to be too potent for such a delicate dessert and would dial it back to 1/2 a teaspoon)
Fresh fruit and mint leaves, for garnish
Pour 3 tablespoons water into a small custard cup and sprinkle gelatin over it. Let stand until gelatin soften for about 10 minutes.
Combine whipping cream and sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot; don’t boil it. Remove from heat; stir in gelatin mixture until completely dissolved and mixture is smooth. Cool mixture to room temperature, about 45 minutes.
Stir kefir and vanilla extract into cream mixture. Pour mixture through a fine strainer into a large 4-cup measuring cup. Divide mixture among six (3/4-cup) custard cups or ramekins. Refrigerate until panna cotta is set, at least 6 hours or up to 1 day.
You can eat the panna cotta right out of the ramekins or unmold them. To unmold, run a thin knife around the sides of each panna cotta. Then, one at at time, place bottom of each ramekin in a bowl that has 1-inch of hot water in it. After about 45 seconds, remove the ramekin from the bowl of water. Place a plate over the ramekin and invert. Then, while holding tightly onto the custard cup and plate together, give it one strong shake. The custard should then release and settle onto the plate. Garnish with fresh fruit and mint leaves, if you like.