Welcome to the Dog Days. August: when the three “H’s” cloud almost every day, the cicadas are loud enough to make window glass vibrate, the kids are on tenterhooks over which teacher they will have this year, and the first Holiday Preview toy catalogs (gasp) show up in the mailbox.
It is decidedly NOT a time of year to fuss over baked goods(unless they happen to be for your favorite lifeguards), and our doyenne of dessert, Madame Abby Dodge, provided the perfect template in her August #baketogether recipe for these hazy days. Vanilla Panna Cotta, with a cocktail-inspired sauce to bring the zing!
I had never (gasp again!) made a Panna Cotta before, so as usual for the first time I try something, I stuck faithfully to the original recipe, substituting only vanilla extract for paste because that’s what I had on hand, and adding an extra sprinkle of gelatin as Abby suggested because I knew I was planning to present a molded custard.
Baketogether is a pretty wide-open baking initiative, rules-wise–but this month Abby did exhort us to “capitalize on one of summer’s shining stars” in the sauce–hers was inspired by a berry- and-gin cocktail known as a brezza fresca. So my original impulse toward espresso/mocha flavor profile kind of fizzled. What summer fruit pairs well with espresso? Anyone? I’m stumped! Hmmm, what other shining summer stars tickle my palate these days? I’m glad you asked. This summer, I have been hitting the watermelon. . .hard. Watermelon sorbets, watermelon salads, watermelon as the star of fruity kebabs. . .I had done everything but drink it!
Now, I’ve drunk it. As the base for my sauce, I whizzed up a batch of Margaritas de Sandia, or watermelon margaritas, plussed up with that other shining summer star: basil! Now, since I have never made a cocktail before, I stuck faithfully. . .ARE YOU LAUGHING YET??!! YOU SHOULD BE! To me, mixing cocktails is more a “throw it in and drink it” endeavor than a “follow a recipe” thing. . .to this end, I threw about a shot and a half of silver tequila, the juice of a pretty small lime, maybe 8 or 9 leaves of basil, coarsely chopped,a shake of salt and enough chunks of watermelon to fill the blender about ¾ full. Some Cointreau would be great in there too if you have it! Whizz whizzz whizzzz. . .eh ben voila. Drink it, or use it as a sauce for a rich, smoooooth vanilla lovely. Garnish with a confetti of mixed summer fruit. Bunny face optional.
Ricotta Panna Cotta with Watermelon-Basil Margarita #Baketogether
Makes 6 servings
For the Panna Cotta
1/4 cup water
1 1 /4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
1 1/2 cups (13 1/8 ounces) ricotta cheese
1/2 cup ( 3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch table salt
For the Watermelon Basil Sauce
About 3 cups cubed seedless watermelon
juice of one lime
8 leaves freshly picked basil, chopped
1 oz of silver tequila, or more or less to taste
dash kosher salt.
To make the panna cotta:
1. Have ready 6 small dessert glasses, cups or bunny/teddy molds and make room in the frig.
2. Put the water in a 1 cup Pyrex measure or a small, heatproof ramekin and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Set aside to soften. Once the gelatin has absorbed the water and is plump, microwave briefly until it is completely melted, about 1 minute.
3. Put the melted gelatin, ricotta, sugar, vanilla and salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth and well blended. Pour into the prepared glasses,bowls, bunny or teddy molds. Cover the tops with plastic. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours or up to 2 days before serving.
To make the sauce:
1. Whizz all ingredients in a blender until liquified and no large flecks of basil can be seen.
If serving children, you may eliminate the tequila, and maybe the basil too depending on whether the child in question will freak out over green flecks in his sauce.
If serving children who do not tolerate any sauce under any circumstances whatsoever, a fruit kebab makes a lovely accompaniment.
Thanks as always to Abby and my comrades in #baketogether. Recipes can make you smile, make you remember, move you forward or bring you together. They can also just end up being pretty freakin’ funny and making you laugh out loud(tequila optional)!