Recently I've been doing some work for a gelatin company, and learning a lot about the nuances of gelatin in the process. It's really pretty cool stuff, and, despite its regrettable history as the star ingredient of many a low-brow molded salad, tomato aspic and dirty-peach-colored-salmon-mold circa 1963, when used properly, it can create a texture and mouthfeel in desserts that's unlike anything else. One dessert that requires the addition of gelatin is panna cotta, the famous Italian spoon dessert. I've had plenty of bad panna cottas (or is it 'panne cotte'??) in my day, and this is generally caused by the addition of too much gelatin, which gives it a rubbery texture. The secret to gelatin is to add just enough to get the dessert to set, and no more. The dessert should melt on your tongue and certainly should not require any excessive mouth action (chewing, for example, would be a bad sign). Here's a silky coconut panna cotta that's made with organic unsweetened coconut (find it at health food stores), which is infused in the cream and milk mixture and then strained out. I've paired it with a tropical fruit compote, which has diced fresh pineapple, mango, crystallized ginger and chopped mint in it. Together it makes a very refreshing, easy to prepare dessert that's ideal for warm weather. It can also be prepared up to a day ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. I just ate two bowls of it, God help me.
Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Fruit Compote
Makes 8 servings
Coconut Panna Cotta:
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup Demerara or granulated sugar
3/4 cup (about 2 ounces) unsweetened dessicated coconut (available from health food stores)
2 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp dark rum
Tropical Fruit Compote:
1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup diced fresh mango
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon finely chopped mint
Make the panna cotta:
1. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, milk, sugar and coconut over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to disswolve the sugar, until just beginning to bubble around the edge of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow to infuse for about 20 minutes.
2. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down on the coconut to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the strained cream mixture to the saucepan (discard the coconut).
3. Place 1/4 cup water in a small cup and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it. Let it stand for 5 minutes to soften.
4. Heat the cream mixture until just beginning to boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the softened gelatin, stirring until it is completely dissolved. Stir in the vanilla and rum.
5. Strain the mixture again through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass measure with a pouring spout. Divide the mixture among 6 or 8 martini, wine or serving glasses. Chill until set, about 3 hours. Make the compote:
6. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and let macerate, refrigerated, for 30 minutes, or until ready to serve dessert.
7. Top each panna cotta with some of the Tropical Fruit Compote and serve.