Basil Pesto Panna Cotta with Honey Macadamia and Cherry Tomatoes
I was surfing the Saveur magazine site when I came across this recipe for pesto panna cotta. The idea of using basil to create a panna cotta was so intriguing that I immediately bookmarked that page. Normally, I would not consider using basil in a dessert but the recipe looked good and the green color of the panna cotta looked very inviting.
Now, if I could only find some basil here, I would be good to go. Yes, dear readers, it’s really hard to find sweet basil here. Thai basil, on the other hand, is easily found. I was ready to make this and substitute with Thai basil when good fortune smiled on me.
What happened was, one day at work, I chanced upon my colleague having a pesto spaghetti and she told me she had a friend with a garden with lots of basil and so she made some pesto and even gave me some to take home. I was so excited that I asked her if her friend was willing to let me have some for a recipe I’ve been wanting to try.
Thankfully, she did have some and shared it with me. You should have seen how Nate and I reacted when we opened that bag of basil–we both swooned. It had been so long since we’d breathed in the sweet fragrance of basil (Thai basil has a nice scent too but it’s a little bit more spicy).
So this past weekend, we got set to make this dish. I think it was meant to be as I had all the ingredients I needed to make this though the garnishes (candied pine nuts) and the tomato sorbet could not be done as easily (no ice cream maker!), I improvised with what I had (honey macadamia nuts and cherry tomatoes) and they were lovely contrasts to the sweetness of this panna cotta. I also love how it looks on the plate.
Pesto Panna Cotta Recipe
adapted from Saveur Magazine, issue #140
Prep time: 30 mins / Total time: 4 hours
2 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
scant 3/4 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
Garnish: chopped honey macadamia, quartered cherry tomatoes, some extra basil leaves
1. In a bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup milk; let sit for 10 minutes.
2. In a medium-sized pot, add the remaining milk, cream, basil and sugar and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar dissolves and milk has been infused with the basil leaves (if the mixture is boiling, turn heat down to low to simmer), about 2-3 minutes.
3. Transfer to a blender, add gelatin mixture, and puree until smooth.
4. Pour into 2 Royal Selangor Jelly Moulds. Chill until firm, 3–4 hours.
5. Unmould on a plate and sprinkle with chopped macadamia nuts and quartered cherry tomatoes.
If there is only one thing that I wasn’t happy with, it was my blender. If you recall, we had tried to make cha lua but our blender failed us. I didn’t think this was as hard to blend up but for some reason, our blender again failed us and left us with bits of leaves instead of a good blended green milky custard.
(As an aside, I was just tutoring a student this past weekend too and we were talking about idioms and one that we talked about was “A bad workman blames his tools” and I was telling Nate about this as I thought about the fact that I was going to blame my tool for the poor quality of my blended basil panna cotta–hmm…what does this say about me? ^_^)
Despite the poorly blended basil, the panna cotta was more than sufficiently infused with the flavor of basil. It was delicious and so different from a plain panna cotta like the soy milk panna cotta we had done early on in this Royal Selangor Jellyriffic Challenge. I imagine it would have been better if I had managed to get it all blended smoothly so I will be trying this again.
The other thing that happened was that when the panna cotta set, somehow the mixture separated with the milk layer on the bottom and a yellowish layer on top. I have no idea what caused this to happen–perhaps we caused the milk to separate when we whizzed the darn thing over and over trying to get more of the leaves to blend up, perhaps the heavy cream here is different from what we can get in the US (over here, everything is ultra-pasteurized) and we overcooked it. I don’t know.
Thankfully, this did not affect the flavor of the panna cotta and both panna cottas were devoured very quickly. Daniel and Nate both loved it very much (Daniel loves all dairy products so it’s a no-brainer for him and Nate just enjoyed the fragrance and sweetness of the basil). I enjoyed the combination of milky sweetness with the texture of crunchy macadamia nuts with the sweet tartness of the cherry tomatoes. Such a beautiful harmony of flavors and textures in my mouth. Yum!
So the next time I get more basil, I will be making this again. As a matter of fact, my friend has promised me some seeds so who knows, I may be growing my own basil soon!
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