Make the most delicious panna cotta with strawberries and serve it like a present, wrapped in a little jar for your love to open.
It is finally strawberry season. The Norwegian strawberry season has been two weeks later in the south of Norway and the yield only 1/3 compared to last year. Large crops have suffocated because they have been covered by ice in the winter instead of snow. The farmers call this phenomenon ”icefire” (isbrann). In addition frozen ground and a rainy June worsened the conditions. Still, the ones that have survived are tastier than ever because the temperature has been not too cold and not too warm – making the berries extra sweet.
Panna cotta is unthinkable without vanilla, the dried fruit of a tropical Mexian orchid. It was introduced to Europe in the 1520s by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. Vanilla was used by the Aztecs who mixed it with chili peppers and cocoa beans to make chocolate. In Europe, however, it was difficult to grow because the vanilla orchids had to be pollinated by Mexican bees. Vanilla is an example of how important insects are as pollinators. Luckily in 1841 a slave, Edmond Albius, discovered that it was possible to hand-pollinate the orchids. Albius came from the French island of La Réunion outside Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Today vanilla from La Réunion is regarded as the finest vanilla in the world.
Lime panna cotta
The original panna cotta is a combination of cooked cream, sugar, vanilla and gelatin. I also add yogurt and lime. I once added yoghurt to lower the fat content in a panna cotta and found out that it worked. Lime (and lemon) do magic in the kitchen. Like salt lime enhances the flavour, but remember that the most aromatic flavour is in the skin. If you add sour lime or lemon in desserts, you also need to add more sugar to balance the flavour. The result is both sweet and sour. Gelatin thickens the cream. The most important thing about gelatin in panna cotta is to add as little as possible. You want it creamy, not like wobbly jelly. With just one leaf of gelatin, the panna cotta needs at least 3 hours to set (or the night to set), and because it is so creamy, this panna cotta is made to serve in a glass.
Panna cotta (makes 2–3):
½ vanilla pod
50 g / 1,7 oz sugar
200 ml / 0,8 cup double cream or heavy cream (similar to Norwegian 38 % cream)
125 ml / ½ cup thick Greek yogurt
1 leaf of gelatin
275 g / 10 oz strawberries
1 tbsp sugar
1. Soak the gelatin in cold water in a small bowl until jelly like. It takes about 5 minutes.
2. Cut the vanilla pod in two and split lengthways. Scrape out the vanilla seeds and place seeds and pod in a small pan with the sugar and double cream. Bring to simmer.
3. Squeeze the water out of the gelatin leaf, then add to the pan and take off the heat. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved. Place the pan in cold water for 5 minutes.
4. When cold, add the yogurt, juice and zest of half the lime.
5. Pour the cream into a jar (or in small glass) and leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight.
6. Before serving: Cut the strawberries in half and mix with the sugar. The sugar sweetens the flavour and adds a beautiful glaze to the berries.