- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some weeks it’s hard to find time to cook, much less to entertain. A recent week was like that at our house. It was tax season, so my husband and I were running around with receipts and calculators, madly trying to get our return completed. I had a proposal to turn in as well as a cooking class to prepare for, and my spouse was trying to finish grading the midterm papers.

I knew a small dinner I had planned would have to be simple and finally came up with a menu. For appetizers, there would be bowls of lemon-scented olives and toasted almonds. The main course would be an all-in-one French stew of lamb and spring vegetables, and, for des sert, buttermilk panna cotta with blueberries.

The stew took 11/2 hours to cook, but I was able to prepare it two days ahead. The panna cottas (they turned out to be the piece de resistance of the evening) could also be prepared two days ahead.

Panna cotta (Italian for cooked cream) is a gloriously smooth custard made without eggs. It is bound with gelatin and typically served chilled. The recipe that follows is from Brian Alberg, chef at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass. He cleverly uses buttermilk to add a bright tang to this confection and to keep it from being cloying. Garnished with blueberries and mint, it is the answer when you want something that’s quick, make-ahead and delicious.

Buttermilk panna cotta with blueberries

Makes 6 servings.

6 6-ounce ( 3/4-cup) ramekins

Nonstick cooking spray

2 teaspoons ( 1/4 ounce envelope) powdered gelatin

2 tablespoons water

3/4 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups buttermilk (shake carton or bottle well before measuring)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla


1 1/2 cups blueberries

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

6 mint sprigs

Spray the insides of the 6 cup ramekins or souffle cups with nonstick cooking spray. Place gelatin in a small bowl and cover with 2 tablespoons water to soften, about 5 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together cream and sugar and place over medium high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and bring mixture to a good simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin until it has completely dissolved. Then stir in the buttermilk and vanilla. Transfer the mixture to a large (about 4-cup) measuring cup with a spout and pour into the prepared ramekins.

Place the ramekins on a baking sheet or tray, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until completely set, 6 hours or overnight. (Panna cottas can be made 2 days ahead. Keep covered and refrigerated.)

When ready to serve, toss blueberries, sugar and lemon zest together in a medium bowl. Have ready 6 dessert plates. Remove panna cottas from refrigerator and let them stand at room temperature 10 minutes. To unmold, run a sharp knife around the inside edge of each ramekin.

Fill a cake pan or pie plate with very hot water and dip the bottom of each ramekin in the water for about 10 seconds. Invert each ramekin onto the center of a dessert plate and gently lift off the dish. If panna cotta doesn’t unmold, repeat dipping bottoms of ramekins in hot water. Garnish each serving with blueberries and a mint sprig.


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