Photo by Marcus Nilsson
This silky, tangy Buttermilk Panna Cotta gives the nod to spring with a compote of strawberry and rhubarb. The photo and recipe are from “Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals” by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner.
There’s no accounting for cravings. Just when spring is in the air, and I know I should be salivating for the bright flavors of new greens, tangy radishes or tender lamb, I instead find myself with a powerful hankering for something sweet.
And not just a nutritionist-approved square of dark chocolate or dollop of Greek yogurt and fruit, but a full-on, fancy sweet dessert. An “on purpose” dessert, one that takes time and deliberation. A dessert that — unlike ice cream eaten from the carton while standing at the open freezer — can be thoughtfully savored. A “restaurant” dessert.
Being an unschooled home cook rather than a trained pastry chef, however, I know that my skills are limited in the restaurant dessert department. It is highly unlikely I will be producing anything that involves brioche dough or homemade puff pastry, tempered chocolate, tuiles, sabayon, foam or fondant.
A new cookbook offers the perfect solution: the not-on-the-menu dishes that restaurant staff enjoy together at the daily (or twice-a-day) “family” meal. “Family Dinner,” by Union Square Cafe chef Michael Romano and writer Karen Stabiner, gives recipes from the staff meals of some of New York City’s finest restaurants.
For example, Union Square Cafe offers on its menu desserts such as White Chocolate & Lemon Mousse With Blood Orange, Yuzu Syrup (and) Grapefruit Sorbet, but the waiters and kitchen staff might be served a Quick Coconut Cake with their dinner, a recipe that takes about 15 minutes to put together and is moist and delicious. Chefs from Blue Smoke and Eleven Madison Park contribute down-home desserts such as peanut butter cookies and lemon bars to this cookbook. The posh Gramercy Tavern chimes in with hot fudge sauce.
The recipes for the savory dishes in this cookbook are equally appealing and accessible to the home cook: an herb-filled frittata, short ribs braised with cola, black bean chili, chicken Parmigiano and more.
“Family Table” provides a perfect way to have a restaurant meal at home, finished with a restaurant dessert, of course. The Buttermilk Panna Cotta contributed by Cristina Nastasi, a pastry chef for the cafes of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is a perfect choice.
“Panna cotta” is Italian for “cooked cream,” which may sound as blah as a dessert can sound without actually having the word “tapioca” in it; it is in fact a sweet, silky confection. Nastasi’s version is also pretty to look at, even a touch elegant. And the strawberry and rhubarb compote that complements it has those bright “spring” flavors we are supposed to be wanting.
There’s just no accounting for cravings. Please pass me a spoon.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta With Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote
Yield: 6 servings
For the compote (see note):
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
4 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
2 cups quartered, hulled strawberries
For the panna cotta:
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream (divided)
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk
Make the compote: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, combine the rhubarb and sugar syrup. Bake, uncovered, until the rhubarb is tender, about 15 minutes. Add the strawberries, stir, and bake for 5 minutes until the strawberries have softened. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week.
Make the panna cotta: In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over ½ cup cream. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.
Bring the remaining ½ cup cream, sugar and vanilla to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute, then whisk in the cream-gelatin mixture until the gelatin dissolves. Stir in the buttermilk.
Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Divide the mixture among six (4-ounce) ramekins or pour into a small serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least five hours, until set. (Well-wrapped, the panna cotta will keep for up to three days in the refrigerator.)
Run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekins and unmold the panna cotta onto plates, or serve it right in the ramekins or scoop out of the bowl. Top with the fruit compote, using about 2/3 cup of compote per serving.
Note: You can also serve this compote with ice cream or yogurt. The recipe makes about 3 cups.
(Recipe from “Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals” by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.
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