January 2, 2010

Oh My Panna Cotta

Long, long ago, (well four years at least), in a land far away, Will and I went to a strange and slightly wild late night party at a rooftop flat in Temple Bar. Strange because although the party didn't start till 9 or so and planned to go till the wee small hours, it was a bring your kids kind of shin-dig. Also because the guest list could have doubled for a meeting of the EU. Wild because, well, I'll just say- Temple Bar and Italians. Do I really need to go further?

Anyway, after the dancing on the roof, artichoke flavored liquor (I don't recommend it) and watching the children, including ours, spin in circles until they collapsed on the floor and went to sleep, the desserts came out.

Now, it's no secret that I love dessert. My waistline would thank me if I didn't, but as Will has said of my thought process - the whole point of dinner is to get to dessert, right? And I've never really met a dessert that I didn't like (other than ice cream which - eh, I'll eat it but it's not really my thing) but every once in a while I'll eat something that totally blows my mind. The first time it happened it was the Hot Chocolate sold in the hostel in Rome where I stayed at the end of my high school exchange. Incidentally, I also bought a nightlight in the shape of the Pope's face there for a friend who wanted to be a priest. Just so you understand that it wasn't a fancy smancy place. I could have drunk gallons of that hot chocolate, it was incredible. And at this particular party, I had the same reaction to the Panna Cotta.

If you've never had panna cotta, and I hadn't, it's like jello for grownups. creamy and vanilla-y and only slightly sweet. I seriously considered stealing the plate and sneaking out to the terrace to snarf down the whole thing. Our host, one of those charming and carefree Italian women who always looks like a million bucks but still manages to be sweet and generous, shrugged off the accomplishment. It was just an ordinary dessert.

I've tried out a few panna cotta recipes since then, never with great success. They wouldn't set all the way or weren't creamy enough or were too sweet. Eventually I gave up. Then, yesterday I was dashing through the grocery store grabbing a few forgotten items when I buzzed past a curry products display. Normally this would induce instant cravings for Chicken Korma but for some reason this time I stopped at the coconut milk and that, humm, coconut panna cotta? Why not.

The recipe is based on this very basic Italian one. I liked the simplicity of it and adjusted it for the size of my mold (an SPCA charity shop find - love it!) and the inclusion of coconut. If I'd had time or sense, I probably would have made a chocolate sauce to drizzle over it, but instead I sat on the couch looking at Will who had fallen asleep watching a movie and contemplated eating the whole thing while he dozed. He'd never have known. Don't worry, I held back. But I at my portion without any garnish or toppings, and it was lovely. Not the same as my Italian friends, but just as good. Smooth and melt in your mouth creamy and just the right hint of sweetness. And just what I needed after the Ducks lost the Rose Bowl. Sigh... Maybe in another 15 years they'll try again....

Coconut Panna Cotta
fills a 2 cup jello mold - if you don't have a mold, custard cups or espresso cups make a great alternative for single servings

1 cup coconut milk (shake the can before you open it)
1 cup half and half (you could use cream for a more decadent version)
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 T cold water
1 T vanilla

In a small bowl, mix the gelatin and water to allow it to soften. Set aside. Heat the Coconut
milk and half and half with the sugar on medium heat until it just begins to steam, add the vanilla and then stir in the gelatin until it has completely dissolved. Pour into lightly oiled molds (use an unflavored oil) and let set in the refrigerator until set. A two cup mold takes about 3 hours to firm completely, individual servings will be faster. Invert (if you want) to slide the panna cotta out and serve. Berries or chocolate (or both if you want, who am I to decide!) would be great served over this but it's great plain too.