What better way to have your drink than to eat it for dessert? And with a wiggle this seductive, you can’t resist this pear panna cotta: Cool and creamy, soft and silky, the pear panna cotta is wonderfully delicate, and the covering of port gelée is the perfect flavor accent, intensifying the refreshing dessert. The beauty of panna cotta lies in its ease of preparation and the pure, simple flavor of cream. Since there are so few ingredients, it is important to only use the best and purest.
For the pear panna cotta:
3 pears (enough to make 1 ½ cups purée)
1 package unflavored gelatin (.25 oz)
2 tablespoons cold water
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 cinnamon stick
A pinch of salt
For the port gelée:
2 cups ruby port
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons gelatin
1 ½ tablespoons cold water
For the reduced port sauce (optional):
1 cup ruby port
1 teaspoon sugar
Handheld immersion blender or food processor
Fine mesh sieve
Molds or ramekins
Prepare the pear panna cotta:
Peel and chop the pears. Place in a small saucepan with a few tablespoons of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until the fruit is tender, about 7-10 minutes, and then allow to cool. Using a handheld immersion blender or a food processor, purée the pears until smooth. Pass through a fine mesh sieve and reserve the purée for the panna cotta.
Place the water in a small dish and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let rest for 5 minutes, until the gelatin is dissolved and softened. Combine the heavy cream, milk, pear purée, sugar, vanilla seeds and bean, cinnamon stick and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat to a simmer and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Add the gelatin mixture to the hot cream, stirring until the gelatin dissolves, and then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup with a spout. Divide among ramekins (see Variations for more on ramekins) and refrigerate until chilled and set.
Prepare the port gelée:
Place the water in a small dish and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it rest for 5 minutes, until the gelatin is dissolved and softened. Bring the port, lemon juice and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan and continue to simmer for another 3 minutes until just slightly reduced. Remove from the heat and add the softened gelatin to the warm mixture, whisking until the gelatin dissolves. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and allow to cool to room temperature. Gently pour it over the panna cotta in the ramekins (or see Variations for more molding ideas). Refrigerate until chilled and set.
Prepare the port sauce:
Bring the port and the sugar to a low simmer over medium-low heat in a small saucepan and continue to simmer until reduced by half, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
To unmold the panna cotta, dip the ramekin or mold into warm water for 5 seconds to release it. Be careful not to have the water too hot or keep it under the water for too long, or the panna cotta may melt. Carefully loosen the edges and gently wiggle the panna cotta out of the mold.
Pour the port sauce into a squeeze bottle to decorate the plates with dots of sauce, or using a paint brush, paint a line of sauce across the plates. Carefully transfer one unmolded panna cotta to each plate. Serve and enjoy!
[Chef’s Note: It’s a good idea to prepare this dessert a day in advance, as you need to allow time for the gelatin to set.]
This recipe can be adapted for a variety of molds/ramekins and styles. Feel free to layer the panna cotta and gelée by pouring a small amount of panna cotta into the mold and refrigerating until set (about 1 hour), then pouring an equal amount of gelée and refrigerating until set, continuing to repeat the layers. Or to make a panna cotta with a single layer of gelée on top, first pour the gelée into the bottom of the mold, refrigerate until set, and then pour a larger amount of the panna cotta on top of the gelée. Let set and unmold turning upside down so the panna cotta is on the bottom and the gelée is on top. Or pour the panna cotta into a clear glass, let set, and then pour a thin layer of the gelée on top of the panna cotta for an attractive parfait which you can serve directly.
Recipe and photo by Monica Glass