Not everyone is a strawberry shortcake sort of person. Some people (and some meals) just call for something else.
I made this for a middle-of-the-week-meal with my sister-in-law and her family. I served freshly made pasta with mushrooms, asparagus dressed with lemon-anchovy butter and topped with shavings of parmesan, and a salad. There was wine (perhaps too much wine), and we had this for dessert.
I like the idea of having people over for low key meals during the middle of the week but my husband objects because he likes to get up early. I keep insisting that it can be done without making it a late night and my plan was to have everyone out the door by 9 pm. I was not successful and I think my husband may have had about 3 hours of sleep before getting up at 4:00 a.m. to prepare for a case. I need to rethink the week night get-together.
But the meal was a success and the strawberries with balsamic vinegar served over a goat's milk yogurt panna cotta was a particular success.
This recipe is adapted from Amanda Hesser's Cooking For Mr. Latte, and is Amanda Hesser's version of a Mario Batali recipe which you can see here. I've made it twice now, once with goat's milk yogurt and once with Greek yogurt, and I prefer it with the Greek yogurt; I found the panna cotta made with goats' milk yougurt just a little too....well, goaty. Although if you're a fan of goat cheese, you might prefer the goat's milk variety. Panna cotta is traditionally poured into ramekins, chilled until it is set, and served by unmolding it onto a plate. Amanda Hesser suggests instead allowing the yogurt mixture to firm up in a serving bowl and then scooping the panna cotta into bowls which is a much easier way to serve it.
Panna cotta is held together with gelatin. In a best case scenario it is just barely held together and is almost quivery on the plate. In a worst-case scenario it's like a rubbery hockey puck. I can state this with authority because I've had some first hand experience with this particular worst-case scenario. The differrence between the ethereal and the rubbery in panna cotta is all about the amount of gelatin. There are lots of different theories on the best ration of gelatin to liquid and many cookbooks suggest using a greater amount than the amount called for here, but I thought this was just perfect. Also, keep in mind that gelatin continues to firm up the longer it sits in the fridge. If you plan on serving this within a few hours of making it, use the scant 1 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin. If you are going to make it the day before serving it, go with 1 1/4 teaspoons.
Amanda Hesser's Yogurt Panna Cotta with Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar
Yogurt Panna Cotta
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups yogurt, either whole milk Greek yogurt or goat
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
scant 1 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin
2 cups of strawberries, halved if they're small, or quartered if they're larger.
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of aged balsamic vinegar
1. Bloom the gelatin: Put two tablespoons of water into a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the water, then set aside to let it soften.
2. Whisk the heavy cream and yogurt together until smooth, then set aside. In a small saucepan, whisk the confectioners' sugar into the milk, then heat the milk just until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Remove from the heat, and stir in the water and gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved.
4. Stir the milk mixture into the cream yogurt mixture, then pour it into a glass pie plate or bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for three or four hours, or overnight.
5. One hour before serving, mix the berries with the sugar, balsamic vinegar. Take the panna cotta out of the refrigerator shortly before you're going to serve it in order to let it warm up a little. To serve, scoop the panna cotta into bowls and top with the strawberry balsamic vinegar mixture.