Finally, it feels like spring in New England. After weeks of chilly weather, recently we’ve had a stretch of days where the thermometer has climbed to the 70s and even 80s. Accordingly I’ve happily changed my cooking to welcome the warmer weather.
For appetizers I’ve prepared grilled asparagus with a mayo dipping sauce, and for a main course my husband and I loved risotto with watercress. A salad of radishes, cucumbers, and dill in a mustard dressing is another dish I’ve served. But, by far, my favorite recipe has been lemon panna cottas topped with crushed hazelnuts and strawberries. I served them for a Sunday night soup supper with friends, and they turned out to be the pièce de résistance of the evening.
A classic Italian dessert, panna cotta (Italian for cooked cream) is a gloriously smooth custard made without eggs. It is bound with gelatin and typically served chilled. These lemon-scented ones are assembled with heavy cream and milk, and boast a delectable lemon flavor. The strong citrus accent comes from fresh lemon juice that is used to soften the gelatin and from lemon zest that is rubbed into sugar to release its oils.
Count on 20 to 25 minutes to assemble these panna cottas, then chill them in the fridge for several hours or up to a day ahead. At serving time, top them with a mixture of crushed hazelnuts and shortbread cookie crumbs and a mound of sliced strawberries. Delicious!
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Lemon Panna Cottas with Crushed Hazelnuts and Strawberries
Six 6-ounce ramekins or other similar sized containers such as glass canning jars
Canola oil or non-stick cooking spray
2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce envelope) powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons freshy squeezed lemon juice plus 1 teaspoon extra if needed (You'll need 3 lemons for juice and zest; zest lemons first before juicing.)
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts (See cooking tip)
2 tablespoons coarsely crushed shortbread cookies such as Walker’s
1 to 1 1/4 cups sliced strawberries (See cooking tip)
6 mint sprigs, optional
1.Use canola oil to grease the insides of six 6-ounce (3/4 cup) ramekins or other containers or spray them with non-stick cooking spray. Place gelatin in a small bowl and cover with 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Let stand about 5 minutes to soften.
2.Place 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon zest in a medium bowl and using your fingers rub the zest into the sugar until well blended. Mixture will become pale yellow in color. This process will release the oils from the lemon zest and produce a stronger citrus flavor.
3.In a medium saucepan whisk together the cream and the sugar with the lemon zest. Place pan over medium high heat. Whisk until sugar dissolves and bring mixture to a good simmer. Remove from heat and whisk in the gelatin until it has completely dissolved. Then add the milk. Taste and if you’d like a slightly stronger citrus flavor, stir in an additional teaspoon of lemon juice. Transfer mixture to a large (about 4 cup) measuring cup with a spout and pour into the prepared ramekins or other containers.
4.Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until completely set, 6 hours or overnight. Bring to room temperature at least 45 minutes before serving. (Panna cottas can be made 1 day ahead. Keep covered and refrigerated.)
5.To serve, toss strawberries with 1 teaspoon sugar and let stand 5 minutes. Combine the crushed hazelnuts and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and sprinkle some on top of each panna cotta. Spoon strawberries on top, and, if desired, garnish each serving with a mint sprig. Serves 6.
Cooking tip: To toast hazelnuts, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350° F oven until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn. Remove and place nuts in a kitchen towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible.
Cooking tip: If your strawberries are not a rich deep red all the way through, using a sharp paring knife, cut slices from around the outside edges of each berry, discarding the white core. You’ll need about 8 ounces to yield a cup or more to garnish the panna cottas.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2023