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Top Shelf: Vanilla bean and Greek yogurt panna cotta

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To me, a meal has to be balanced, that feeling you get after having enjoyed a complex meal of many flavors and being perfectly satisfied. Even though you’ve eaten well, you don’t have to be rolled away from the table.



This dessert is perfect for balancing the end of a meal. It is so light and refreshing, it could even be used as a palate cleanser. It is a staple on every 1-2 week menu I plan, not because of the  flavor, simplicity or minimal prep time required to pull it off, but because of how it allows me to push the flavor boundaries for my starter, amuse and main meal without fear of an over-complicated and over-flavored meal experience, as this dish ties everything together.



Ingredients:

4 tbsps cold water

1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/4 teaspoons)

2 cups Greek yogurt

1 vanilla bean, split

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup sugar



Pour the cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it. Let this sit without mixing for 5-10 minutes. The gelatin will absorb the water and bloom into a solid, sponge-like texture.

Pour the Greek yogurt in a large bowl and whisk for 30 seconds to smooth out the consistency and make incorporation easier later on in the recipe. Set aside until needed.



Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise from top to bottom. Using the blade of your knife, scrape the seeds (this is flavor central) off the stalk. Place the scraped beans, pod, cream and sugar in a small saucepan and gradually bring to a boil. Keep an eye on the cream to avoid scalding. Stir often as this helps the vanilla flavor intensify.

Once the cream has come to a boil, turn off heat and add the bloomed gelatin. Whisk until the gelatin has completely dissolved.



Strain the cream mixture through a sieve into a measuring jug (or any heat resistant jug that is easy for pouring).



Slowly pour the strained cream mixture into the smooth yogurt whilst whisking. Continue whisking until all the cream has been poured and the mixture is smooth.



Spray 8-12 (depending on desired size, guest number, etc.) silicone molds with non-stick spray. I use a 3-inch half dome mold, like in the picture). Ramekins also will work. I prefer silicone because the removing process is easier, and the shape is awesome.



Pour the mixture into the molds, allow to cool, then cover and put in the fridge for at least 3.5 hours and until firm to touch.



When you are ready to serve, gently pull the silicone back and apply pressure on the opposite end. With ramekins, run a knife between the panna cotta and the sides. Tap the panna cotta into the palm of your hand

and place on plate.



Garnish

I use multiple garnish/accompaniments for this dessert, depending on previous courses and how heavy I want the dessert to be. However, this dessert battles to be heavy, and the simplicity of it creates an almost endless list of flavor pairings.



Cactus pear coulis

2 cactus pears, peeled, chopped

1/2 cup castor sugar

1/2 cup agave honey

Blend  for 2 minutes and strain through a sieve, funnel into a squeeze bottle and place in fridge until required.



Pansy coulis

1 cup pansies

2 tbsp lemon juice

4 tbsp light agave honey

4 tbsp room temp. water

Blend for 1 minute, strain through a sieve, and funnel into a small squeeze bottle. Can be kept at room temp until use.



Chocolate Tuiles

250g semi-sweet chocolate nibs

75ml chopped nuts (your preference, I use salted almonds)

In a double boiler (or a pot half filled with water, with a bowl placed on top creating a bain marie) on medium heat, place the chocolate nibs and gradually melt, stirring occasionally.

When 3/4 melted, remove bowl from boiler and stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Add nuts and stir until evenly incorporated.


Wrap a rolling pin in parchment paper and evenly pour disk shapes (or any shape you desire) of chocolate tuiles onto the pin. Set in fridge. Remove from pin when set. Leave set tuiles in fridge until ready for use.

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