Well, I don’t know how things are looking in your neck of the woods, but around here, they’re all bright and sunshine, despite what Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow said. I mean, yes, it’s cold. Oh wow, it’s cold. However, I do wake up to rays of streaming daylight now, and my drive home happens just as the sun sets, and this weekend’s temps are projected to be in the 50s.
Actually, February’s looking better than ever, wooing me with the anticipation of springtime. My eyes have stopped itching, so I can wear my contacts again. LOST is back. I have the day off tomorrow. And, yesterday, I bought 250 white bakery boxes for less than $35, through some online wholesaler that beat all the competition.
As far as the 250 bakery boxes—I probably should explain, shouldn’t I?—I have a few secret plans in the works, and I’ll tell you about them as soon as things are more finalized. For now, though, just know big things are brewing, and cross your fingers for me. Please? The very idea—or really, the possibilities before me—make me giddy with excitement. I don’t want to jinx anything.
Now, since it’s a little mean to tease you like that and also because you were all so nice about my lumpy hummus made with canned chickpeas and no tahini, I feel I ought to give you something in return. You’ve earned it. So I will.
And boy, this is something. Panna cotta.
Doesn’t the name panna cotta just sound pretty? It makes me feel like I’m wearing a black dress and sitting at a table with a linen table cloth. Yet it’s not pretentious: It’s true you could serve panna cotta at a dinner party to oohs and ahs, but it’s equally lovely on a small plate while you watch T.V. in your pajamas. The name comes from an Italian phrase that means “cooked cream,” and, essentially, that’s what it is: a blend of heated cream, milk and sugar, in this case also with chocolate; mixed with gelatin and water, chilled overnight.
An eggless custard that’s silky smooth, panna cotta came to me by sheer accident. As the owner of two fresh blood oranges (I can’t resist new produce when it’s in front of me), I Googled recipes that would use them up, without requiring me to buy any more, and I found this: chocolate panna cotta with blood oranges and pistachios.
Desserts like these invite elaborate presentation, so if you make it, you may as well comply. When you do, I offer these suggestions, based on my experience: 1) Don’t use long, skinny containers, even if they are pretty glasses. Panna cotta is a light, wobbly dessert (think Jell-O), and if it’s to hold up properly, it needs a substantial circumference at its base. Look for short, fat glasses or handy little ramekins. 2) When you mix up the custard to chill, go ahead and slice up your blood oranges and chop up the pistachios, too. The next day, when you’re loosening panna cotta onto plates, you’ll be glad to have the prep work behind you.
This dessert is as lovely to look at as it is to say. And taste? Spoon a bit into your mouth, the silky chocolate cream blending with bits of salted pistachios and tart oranges on your tongue, a mixture of salty and sweet flavors, and you’ll be hooked. While panna cotta may not be the kind of thing you’d eat buckets of (as certain versions of gelato could be, let’s say), it is the kind of thing that packs beauty with flavor and that leaves you feeling refreshed, not overloaded, when you’re done. Celebrate February with it or, celebrate the fact that it’s Wednesday. Heck, celebrate a bunch of white boxes. The choice is yours.
Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta with Blood Oranges and Pistachios
Lightly adapted from Whole Foods
1 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
6 ounces milk chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
2 blood oranges (alternatives: tangerines, oranges or red grapefruit), peels and pith removed, cut into segments
1/3 cup shelled salted pistachios, roughly chopped
Brush your glasses, ramekins or custard cups very lightly with canola oil; set aside. Pour milk into a medium bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over milk and let stand until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stir whipping cream and sugar together in a heavy medium saucepan over medium high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat, add chocolate and whisk until melted. Whisk warm chocolate mixture into milk mixture in bowl and stir until completely dissolved. Pour into cups, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
When ready to serve, run a knife around the inside edge of the cups to loosen panna cotta, then turn them out onto plates and garnish with oranges and pistachios.