In a tiny little town called Monticchiello, outside of Montepulciano, I had one of the best desserts I have ever had. Ever. And I know my way around a few desserts. It was a vanilla bean panna cotta with a blackcurrant sauce. The panna cotta was unlike any other I've ever had - it was so creamy and luscious, without the rubbery texture you sometimes get with panna cotta. The blackcurrant sauce was sweet, yet a little bit tart, which added a perfect balance to the creamy vanilla.
It was at an unassuming little restaurant called La Porta, right inside the walls of Monticchiello. My boyfriend and I were supposed to share the dessert, but I could not put down the spoon. I couldn't stop myself. I let him have a couple of bits, but the rest was aaaall mine. To be honest, I don't feel bad. I should've eaten it all (sorry Mat...). I wanted to order a second one.
Now, unfortunately, blackcurrants are not really a thing here in Vancouver. There's blackcurrant jam, but I have never seen fresh or frozen blackcurrants in a store. So recreating the dish exactly was out of the question. I decided to be a bit more liberal with it then. It didn't have to be spot-on, just inspired by, like those movies that are, "inspired by true events" that aren't really factual at all.
Instead of blackcurrants, we have cherries. And balsamic and rosemary. Those are traditional Italian ingredients, so I'd like to think that this would be a hit over there. This would be a hit anywhere, though, because it is that good. And I'm not just saying that because I made it.
The panna cotta itself is super creamy and rich, but it's the compote that is the star of the show. You might be wondering about the rosemary and balsamic. Sounds pretty savoury, yeah? Wrong! It's tart, sweet, surprising, and all sorts of flavourful. I'm sure you could use it in a savoury preparation, but I think it really shines as a sweet accompaniment.
It's desserts like these that make me wish I had an actual dining room and more than 3 chairs so I could host a dinner party. And then serve these as dessert! They're incredibly easy to make and really are delicious. During your party, you don't want to be slaving away in the kitchen, getting dessert ready, portioning everything and saucing it properly. Just bring these out, a bowl of the compote, and let your guests have at it.
Or, you know, you can eat them all yourself, like I did....
P.S. Happy Canada Day!
Vanilla Panna Cotta with Cherry, Balsamic, and Rosemary Compote
Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking
1 packet (7 grams) powdered unflavoured gelatin
1/4 cup (60 mL) cold whole milk
2 1/4 cup (540 mL) heavy cream
1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar
1 vanilla bean
Cherry Balsamic Rosemary Compote
Recipe from Whole Living
1 pound (4 cups) halved and pitted fresh sweet cherries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Coarse salt and black pepper
First, make the panna cotta. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold milk and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until it has swelled up and softened.
Meanwhile, combine the heavy cream, and icing sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean, and add the seeds and the pod to the cream mixture. On medium heat, bring to just a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Strain the cream mixture over the gelatin and stir to dissolve the gelatin.
Pour the cream into your desired ramekins, glasses, or dessert cups. Refrigerate until set, 3 to 4 hours.
For the compote, combine the cherries, sugar, rosemary, and 1 tablespoon of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the cherries are tender and the liquid has thickened, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Take off the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Let it cool to room temperature, then add a generous tablespoon to each panna cotta.
The compote recipe makes more than you need for the panna cotta, but it can be jarred and stored. Serve over ice cream, with yogurt, or on toast.