i’m starting to get really impatient when i go to the grocery store. we’re right on the cusp of local spring/summer produce becoming available and i can’t wait any longer! i wander around the store with a pout, discouraged from buying anything. i want fat zucchinis, sweet asparagus and peas, summer squash and beautiful heirloom tomatoes. i want tiny, sugary field strawberries not the hard, sour ones in their plastic boxes. i long for juicy peaches and plums, sour crabapples, and watermelon that actually tastes like something.
last week i did get a stroke of luck at my local grocery store. wandering around the aisles, i spotted a flash of beautiful, vibrant blush pink and i think i actually gasped pretty loudly in excitement. straight ahead, shining like a beacon in a sea of sad produce, was a mound of rhubarb. now, i know this rhubarb was probably grown in a greenhouse, but this weed is a sign of the start of a wonderful few months of food.
i have memories of being a kid in my grandmother’s backyard and picking long stalks from the patch, then dipping them in bowls of sugar and eating them just like that. my favourite way to eat them is cooked down with sugar, vanilla and strawberries and then swirled with greek yogurt (gasp! not pie!). the tartness of the rhubarb and creamy yogurt just go so well together so i wanted to imitate that with a proper summertime dessert. in strolls the effortlessly elegant panna cotta – it’s basically grown up jello! cream is sweetened with sugar and vanilla and set with gelatin – think of it as the way better, way prettier, italian version of those jello molds from the 80’s. don’t be put off by the directions; they seem long when typed out but i promise, but it goes by quickly!
vanilla panna cotta + amaretto roasted rhubarb
*makes about 3 medium bowls or 4 perfect portions
5-6 stalks rhubarb, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons amaretto
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups half and half
1 packet (3 teaspoons) unflavoured gelatin
1/3 cup of sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
pinch of salt
• preheat oven to 350. toss rhubarb with sugar, vanilla and amaretto, and roast until tender, about 10-15 minutes. remove from oven and let cool.
• lightly grease ramekins with neutral oil and wipe away excess. leave only a slight residue.
• pour the half and half into the saucepan and sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over top. let soften for 5 minutes or until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the gelatin grains look wet and slightly dissolved.
• warm the saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. the liquid should never simmer – if you see steam, remove from heat and let cool slightly (this is important because heat will kill the gelatin ability to thicken) . after about 2 minutes of warming, gelatin should be fully dissolved. check by rubbing a drop between your fingers (if it’s smooth it’s ready)
• pour the sugar into the cream and dissolve, still keeping care to not letting the liquid boil! once dissolved whisk in vanilla and salt.
• divide the liquid among the greased ramekins and chill. 1-2 hours if you aren’t unmolding, at least 4 or overnight if you are.
• to unmold, fill a large bowl partway with warm to hot water. wipe a dessert plate with a damp paper towel, and run a thin knife carefully around the sides of a ramekin. don’t slide the knife all the way into the cup; just release the top edge of the pudding from the edge of the cup. dip the ramekin in the warm water up to its rim, and hold it there for about 3 seconds. invert the ramekin over the plate and shake gently to help the panna cotta fall out, or press gently on one side to help nudge it out. it should fall out on the plate easily.
• top with cooled rhubarb and crushed pistachios.