If you come for a meal at my house you can be guaranteed something sweet for dessert. In fact, if I come for a meal at your house you can be pretty certain that I will offer to bring dessert. Aside from my incurable sweet tooth, I just love the complete freedom to create a dish that is meant purely for pleasure. Whether it be a warming winter pudding, something light and fruity, or just a scoop or two of deliciously smooth ice-cream, dinner with friends is not quite complete until dessert is served.
To follow-up last week’s “do-ahead dish”, I headed for the light and fruity option and served this Vanilla Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries.
Panna Cotta means cooked cream in Italian, and, for those of us with lactose malabsorption, would normally be the sort of dessert to avoid. However, with the great range of lactose-free dairy products available, that doesn’t have to be the case. The key to this dessert is to use real vanilla, either a vanilla bean or vanilla bean paste which are both readily available in supermarkets; please don’t settle for essence or even extract for this one.
The panna cotta was made a day in advance and set in 125ml dariole moulds. Although these moulds are easy to find in most kitchen supply stores, they are not essential; just use whatever you have in your kitchen, such as tea cups, drinking glasses or a muffin tin. Fifteen minutes before serving I tossed a little over half a punnet of sliced strawberries with some icing sugar and balsamic vinegar and let it all mingle together while I got on with turning the panna cotta out of the moulds. You will be amazed how the vinegar makes the flavour of the strawberries come to life.
Lactose-free Vanilla Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries serves 6
1 ½ cups (375ml) reduced-fat lactose-free cream (available in long-life tetra paks in the long-life milk aisle of supermarkets)
1 ½ cups (375ml) reduced-fat lactose-free milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways and seeds scraped out
1/3 (75g) cup castor sugar
2 ½ teaspoons gelatine
2 tablespoons cold water
150g strawberries, washed and hulled
2 teaspoons icing sugar mixture
¾ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Combine the cream, milk, vanilla bean and seeds in a saucepan and bring almost to the boil (keep a close eye on it); remove from the heat and stand for 15 minutes to allow the vanilla to infuse. Add the sugar and warm gently over low heat to dissolve; remove from the heat.
Sprinkle the gelatine over the cold water in a small heatproof bowl or teacup. Fill a small saucepan with water to a depth of approximately 3cm. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat, then sit the bowl of gelatine in the saucepan of hot water, stirring the gelatine until it is dissolved. Stir the gelatine into the vanilla-infused cream.
Choose 6 moulds that will hold at least ½ cup (125ml) and lightly grease with oil. Strain the cream mixture into a jug then divide evenly between the moulds. Chill the panna cotta in the fridge overnight.
Fifteen minutes before you are ready to serve, slice the strawberries and mix with the icing sugar and balsamic vinegar; set aside.
To unmold the panna cotta, run a knife around the edge of a mould, cover with a serving plate, then turn over and remove the mould (they might need a little tap and wriggle to release). Divide the balsamic strawberries amongst each plate, arranging on top and beside each panna cotta.
*Tip: Wash and dry the vanilla pod after making the panna cotta. Cut into 4 pieces and place in a jar with a couple of cups sugar and seal. After a week or so you will vanilla scented sugar to add to coffee, sprinkle over a tea cake or whatever else comes to your imagination.