Spruce tip panna cotta is a great alternative to make if you don’t have an ice cream maker for my signature spruce tip ice cream recipe. Panna cotta is great for a lot of reasons: it’s relatively cheap, easy enough for a blind-folded child to make, and refreshing for those warm summer or late spring evenings. It a really well suited canvas for spruce tips especially though, since I generally prefer them uncooked.
Sure, I know people post recipes and things with them cooked, and there are the notable exceptions of things that are great, like classic spruce tip-sun syrup and my quick trick caramelized syrup, as well as a puree I make with cooked onions to serve with liver, but things like cakes, cookies, pesto and salt are just going to disappoint you, in my opinion.
The flavor of spruce tips, for most of my cooking, shines the most when they’re raw, and pureed into some kind of medium, for me, that’s typically diary. Keeping them raw keeps not only the bright color, but also the subtle melon flavor that we all know and love.
The dish is just like any other panna cotta, but with a little tweak in the method. You heat some cream and sugar, adding your gelatin (I use gelatin sheets for the superior texture but packaged powder can work, I suppose) then let the mixture cool to room temperature so that it won’t cook the spruce tips when you add them, which would change the color and flavor. After the cream is cool, you buzz the chopped spruce tips up and puree them, strain, add some lime juice, and pour into your custard dishes or whatever molds, then chill. That’s it.
The creative part comes with figuring out what to serve with your panna cotta. Spruce tips have some specific flavor partners in my mind, and using melon or honeydew as a starting point to generate ideas is a good analogy. A panna cotta is good by itself, but to make things interesting you want to give your palate a bit of variety to add excitement to your bites. Here’s a few examples:
- Red things, think ripe red berries: raspberries, strawberries, or tart red things like rhubarb.
- If you’ve seen my chokecherry gastrique, this is a great time to pull some out.
- Blueberries too, especially gently stewed so they have some juice.
- Fresh mint, especially spearmint.
- Creamy nuts, especially pistachios, cashews, and macadamias make a great garnish and textural counterpoint.
- Sour + bright things, wild grape juice cooked to a syrup, or simply wild grape jelly warmed made a great sauce.
- Balsamic vinegar, preferably thickened or reduced to syrup either by aging or cooking. you wouldn’t think of it, but the tart, deep syrupy, not-too-sweet aged ones, especially things like saba or, if you have some aged balsamic or the holy grail aceto tradizionale.
Spruce Tip Panna Cotta
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 35 grams 1/2 cup spruce tips, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 3.5 sheets leaf gelatin or equivalent
- Stewed berries or similar, such as blueberries or your favorite in season fruit--your choice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Soak the gelatin in ice water. Meanwhile, heat the cream, sugar and salt.
- Whisk in the gelatin until dissolved, then cool the pot in a sink or bowl full of cold water until room temperature.
- Pour the mixture into a blender with the spruce tips, then blend, working up the settings to high, for about 30 seconds or until well blended and light green.
- Strain the mixture through a fine strainer, then whisk in the lime juice. The lime will thicken the cream--this is natural. Pour into your prepared molds, and chill at least few hours before serving. If you store them for longer than a day, cover the dishes with clingfilm to prevent them from forming a skin.