If you plan on doing some fancy entertaining soon, I have the perfect easy, make-ahead dessert. I was not doing any fancy entertaining when I prepared these individual Green Tea Panna Cottas, but I was excited to cook with matcha, or powdered green tea. Panna Cotta is an Italian molded custard that comes together quickly, but requires at least four hours in your refrigerator to set properly. Make them the night before a dinner party for a light bite after an indulgent meal when you may not be quite in the mood for a rich, chocolately thing. Although I am always in the mood for a rich chocolately thing, even I can admit that sometimes restraint is the better strategy.
Do these custards taste like tea? Well, not exactly. The sugar, vanilla and half & half create a mellow milky sweetness that is enhanced by the faintly herbal flavor of the matcha. The light minty-green color is soothing and looks lovely contrasted with bright, juicy berries.
I bought a pack of the most beautiful, plump raspberries that I intended to serve with my panna cotta, but when I sampled one, there was no berry taste whatsoever. I tried another and another, but still the same watery juiciness was all I could detect. These were conventionally grown raspberries from the supermarket, not local and not organic. I couldn’t help but think that these were some kind of Franken-berries, genetically modified and over-fertilized to achieve their flawless, fresh appearance at the expense of their natural flavor. I did some quick online investigating and found that this was not the case, although my razzies most definitely did not provide the “Delightful Eating Experience” promised by Driscoll’s Berries. I had much better luck with the strawberries you see in the photo which were sweet and delicious even though they were a bit mottled and misshapen in their package. Clearly, looks aren’t everything where fresh produce is concerned. It is too bad that sampling is considered bad manners at the grocery store. If you live in a city that does not offer a bounty of farmers’ markets, where and when do you find the most flavorful berries? To avoid disappointment altogether, you could make a light raspberry sauce with frozen berries and sugar to drizzle over these creamy custards.
Green Tea Panna Cotta
Adapted from Bon Appetit, Sept. 2006, here.
Matcha can be found at Whole Foods Market in the fine tea section, where you can get a small amount and pay by weight. It is also available online from Special Teas.
1-1/4 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 tblsp. cold water
3 tblsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar
1-1/4 c. half & half
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/4 tsp. matcha
Fresh berries, for garnish (optional)
Mix the gelatin with the water and let it soften for a few minutes. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, dissolve the sugar in the half & half. Add the softened gelatin and vanilla and whisk to combine. In a bowl, combine the matcha with two tablespoons of the half & half mixture and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining half & half mixture. At this point, you can strain the liquid through a fine sieve if your matcha is coarse. If the liquid already looks very smooth, skip this step. Divide the liquid evenly among 4, 4-oz. or 6-oz. ramekins. Cover each one with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
To unmold, fill a large pot with hot tap water. Remove the plastic wrap from one ramekin and dip the lower three-quarters of the ramekin in the water for 30 seconds. Put a dessert plate over the ramekin, invert and lightly shake the ramekin to release the panna cotta. Repeat with remaining ramekins. You may have to change the water once or twice so it does not get too cool. If you get a bit of liquid on the plates from the panna cotta, just wipe with paper towel. Your custards are still set; the liquid is a result of dipping in the hot water. You could also unmold these a few hours ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap and keep chilled in the refrigerator until dessert. Garnish at the last minute.