I spend so much time with my nose in a cookbook that I've been familiar with both Panna Cotta and Fennel for years, but I realize that may not be the case for everyone. So here's the lowdown!
Panna Cotta is a dreamy, creamy dessert. The flavor and texture are very similar to a custard, but it's SO much easier to put together. Practically foolproof even! Now that I've got you interested, I'm going to put it plain: Panna Cotta is basically an Italian cream Jell-o. Truth. It's cream that's been lightly sweetened, and has just a touch of gelatin in it to hold it together in this dreamy, custardy texture. Trust me, it's amazing.
Now fennel, on the other hand is a beautiful flowering plant. They grow quite tall, have lovely yellow flowers, and smell AMAZING. You'll find them all over during the spring and summer months. You can use fennel seeds, fennel pollen, and fennel bulb in cooking. In this case, I'm mostly using fennel bulb, which has a lovely, incredibly mild licorice flavor. When added to the Panna Cotta, it imparts a subtle, sweet, almost herbal flavor that really makes it something special. Yea, technically it's a vegetable. But trust me.
The Fennel Panna Cotta is delicious on its own, but is made even better with the addition of spiced pears! There are lots of lovely, subtle flavors to this dessert that, not to brag, make it totally stunning. I'm in kind of in love.
Ok, tooting my own horn aside, here's how to make it!
Fennel Panna Cotta with Spiced Pears: Serves 4
For the Fennel Panna Cotta:
- 2 cups half and half (or 1 cup whole milk and 1 cup heavy cream)
- 1/2 of a bulb of fennel, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds (not pictured)
- 1 1/2 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
For the Spiced Pears:
- 1 tbs butter
- 2 pears, diced (about 2 cups)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- Pinch of salt
1. To make the Fennel Panna Cotta, begin by combining all Panna Cotta ingredients, except the gelatin, in a medium sauce pan.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, being sure to stir occasionally so the cream doesn't scorch.
3. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove it from the heat, cover, and let sit 20 minutes. This will infuse the cream with the flavor of the fennel and the fennel seed!
4. After steeping for 20 minutes, make sure the mixture is still warm to the touch, and then strain the mixture using a fine mesh sieve. Be sure to reserve the cream and discard the strained fennel and fennel seeds, not the other way around (we've all been there!). I like to strain directly into a measuring cup to make pouring the cream neat and easy!
5. Add the gelatin to the cream, being sure to stir constantly as you add it. Mix with a fork or whisk until the gelatin is thoroughly mixed into the cream.
7. Put the cups into the refrigerator and let set for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Now we're on to the Spiced Pears! You can prepare these ahead of time and refrigerate them until you're ready to serve, or you can make them about half an hour before serving!
8. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
9. Once the butter is melted and the pan is hot, add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.
10. Cook the pears over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the pears are soft, and they've gotten a bit saucy. They should also start to be looking like a pretty golden brown!
11. Once they're ready, remove from the stove and let cool at least 15 minutes before serving with the Panna Cotta.
12. When your Panna Cotta is nicely set, remove it from the refrigerator and remove it from its cup and onto a plate! This is easy to do by gently sliding a knife around the edges, or by just wiggling it a bit with your fingers. Once it's loose, invert the cup over a plate, and there you have it!
13. Spoon some of the Spiced Pears next to the Fennel Panna Cotta, and then for good measure, put some on top, too!
Now you are ready to serve up this delicious dessert and impress the heck out of your guests (or yourself)!
If you don't want to get quite so fancy, it is also totally cool to leave your Fennel Panna Cotta in the cup and spoon the Spiced Pears over it. It will taste just as good that way.
So there you have it! Fennel Panna Cotta with Spiced Pears. It's amazingly delicious and so, so easy to put together. I hope you guys get a chance to try it out soon. It'll definitely impress the pants off of whoever you serve it to!
Til next time!
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