Yesterday I organized, planned, and cooked for a group of graduating Seniors from WWU, who have been involved in the college ministry Ben and I were involved in as college students. I remember my friend Joe asking me years ago if I actually enjoyed doing this job, and without hesitation, "YES!" He looked at me as if he didn't believe my answer, b/c when he had to fill in one year, he really didn't like it at all.
I think yesterday was the best one I had done, mainly because the menu was simple but elegant, I had planned out the day, and I had wonderful volunteers helping me. For me, deciding the menu is the hardest, b/c there are so many options. So every year I invite friends over to taste what I am thinking of serving and they rave. The problem is every year I never stick with what I serve my friends, except this year, and I think it was a hit. The director and pastor who married us, Brady, said he thought it was one of the best Senior Banquets ever, which was great to hear.
While I had the main dish down (which was Creamy Tomato Pasta), I still had to finalize my dessert. I went back & forth with different options and came back to one I had made in late summer, Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries. I think when you hear it, like most, you might think, "Balsamic & Strawberries?--are you sure?" I knew most of these students had never eaten panna cotta, let alone heard of it before, which made it even more perfect. I want to share this wonderful recipe with you to woo your guests, because though it's elegant--it's very simple to make. It's from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa at Home Cookbook). Enjoy!
Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries
- 1 packet (2 tsp) unflavored gelatin powder
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 vanilla bean
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 pints (8 cups) sliced fresh strawberries
- 5 Tb balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tb sugar
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- freshly grated lemon zest, for serving
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the cream, the yogurt, and vanilla extract. Split the vanilla bean and use the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds into the cream. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve.
Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 8 (6- to 8-ounce) ramekins or custard cups and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Thirty minutes to an hour before serving, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar, and pepper. Set aside at room temperature.
To serve, run a small knife around each dessert and dip the bottom of each ramekin quickly in a bowl of hot tap water. Invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate and surround the panna cotta with strawberries. Dust lightly with freshly grated lemon zest and serve.