We as a family are big fans of “panna cotta”. And we have gone to great lengths to eat this Italian concoction, comprising of milk, cream and sugar along with gelatin or agar agar to set it and give it that wobbly texture. Almost a decade ago, we used to drive down many miles to this particular restaurant run by an Italian chef, which happened to be the only place in town that served a vegetarian pannacotta made without gelatin. And since his antipasti, pizzas or pastas were not great, it meant us eating main course elsewhere and dessert some place else. All this now sounds like from another lifetime, before parenthood beckoned. Ofcourse this was also a time when the city was waking up to the authentic delights of cuisines from other countries. Panna cotta is now widely available everywhere and many chefs prefer to use agar agar or chinagrass instead of gelatin. It is hard to believe that a simple dessert made with such few ingredients, primarily milk, cream and sugar, can have such a profound impact on the tastebuds. Perhaps it is the simplicity itself that makes this so comforting. A breeze to make, this uncomplicated dessert can be embellished with many different fruits and enhanced with various flavourings to make it more extravagant if one prefers to present it in such a way. Since the entire landscape of the city during this season is dotted with ruby red strawberries from Mahabaleshwar (also known as land of strawberries in India), being sold by supermarkets, departmental stores, street vendors and hawkers everywhere, I decided to use this gift from mother nature to top my beautifully set panna cotta by making a coulis, which is nothing but a sauce made from pureed fruits or vegetables. So essentially this is a pairing of the Italian panna cotta with the French Coulis. But let me tell you the panna cotta would be great with other fruit toppings too or even eaten plain or maybe topped with some nutella! That said the vanilla flavoured panna cotta with the sweetened strawberry sauce are a splendid match. The smooth ruby red strawberry sauce topping the quivering soft set, vanilla scented base in this union of the Classic Italian "Panna Cotta" and the French "Coulis" is a beautiful match looks wise and taste wise. And I guess that should be enough to make a dessert maker happy!
Vegetarian Pannacotta With Strawberry Coulis Recipe
You can serve the pannacotta plain or with strawberry coulis topped over it. Other seasonal fruits can also be used to top the pannacotta.
For the Pannacotta
agar agar or chinagrass* water* 500 ml cream 500 ml milk 1 vanilla pod or 2 tsp pure vanilla extract 165 gm (3/4 cup) sugar
If you want a moulded pannacotta, then lightly grease ramekin moulds or any cups with a neutral flavoured vegetable oil, like rice bran oil. If using chinagrass sheets, powder it in a blender and soak in cold water for 20 to 30 minutes. In a large saucepan, mix the cream and milk together and put in the slit vanilla pod. Stir in the sugar and cook on medium low heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn off the heat. In another saucepan, heat the soaked chinagrass along with the water on the lowest flame, stirring continuously until the chinagrass melts completely. Stir the hot chinagrass solution over a strainer into the hot milk and cream mixture. Stir well and if you see tiny china grass particles then with a hand blender, blend at medium speed until the mixture is smooth. Pour into the greased moulds or tall glasses of your choice. Allow to cool and chill in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours or overnight before serving.
For the Strawberry Coulis
1 cup strawberry 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar juice of half a lime
Blend the strawberry with the sugar into a puree in a blender or a food processor. Put in the lime juice and cook until the mixture comes to a boil. Allow to cool.
- Use 10 gm agar agar or china grass and 250 ml (1 cup) water to dissolve the china grass or agar agar for 1 liter of liquid (milk and cream together) for a soft set pannacotta. Use 15 gm agar agar or china grass and 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) water to dissolve the agar agar or china grass for a hard set pannacotta for the same quantity of liquid i.e milk and cream.
- Use only cream for a richer and creamier dessert.
For tips using china grass or agar agar, look here.
Pour the strawberry coulis over the chilled pannacotta, arrange a strawberry over it and serve.