Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ricotta Pannacotta with Caramelised Blood Orange

I am aware that Pannacotta has been done to death and, well, I am told, it is quite ‘yesterday’ to be writing about it. I know this, but it remains one of my very favourite desserts and is just so easy to make. It has a light, silky texture that is somewhat like silken tofu and similar in its ability to take on delicate flavours.

Photo: Steve Shanahan
A friend of mine is a pannacotta-holic and is on a life long mission to find the best pannacotta. When she plans to eat out, she checks if they have pannacotta on the menu before she goes, really she does. She rates them on grittiness and flavour, and she has placed her order with me to try this one out at Christmas.

So it was on another early morning foray to the local markets, I bought some fresh ricotta and very dark blood oranges and decided to use these as the basis for a pannacotta. The secret to a good pannacotta is to ensure you remove the lumps from the mixture before heating it and to use gelatine leaves rather than powdered gelatine. The gelatine leaves are easier to use and can be bought from a delicatessen or some supermarkets.

The usual and main ingredient of a pannacotta is cream. This recipe using ricotta cheese produces a lighter texture again, with a salty finish that works well with the blood orange flavours.

And as a cook, the other reason you have got to love pannacotta, is it can be prepared ahead of time and shoved in the fridge, presto, dessert is done! But I’ll stop now.
Serves 6

Pannacotta
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup whole milk
1and ½ cups double cream
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, de-seeded
4 gelatine sheets
1tbsp orange blossom water

Caramelised Blood Oranges
4 blood oranges
½ cup sugar
50 ml water
1 tbsp honey
1 vanilla bean, de-seeded
3 star anise
5 tbsp white rum

Firstly, prepare the blood oranges. Zest the oranges in long strips. Using a sharp knife remove the skin and pith from three of the oranges and cut into segments. Remove as much of the pith and membrane as possible. Juice the remaining orange and set juice aside. Blanch the zest in boiling water, then refresh with ice cold water, remove and set aside. In a small saucepan heat the sugar, water, star anise and vanilla bean seeds. Boil until lightly golden, this will take about 3 minutes. Add the zest, juice, honey and orange segments and simmer on low for another 3 minutes. Pour into a bowl, add the white rum and set aside until cool.

Place the ricotta into a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until very smooth. Add the milk and continue mixing. Place the cream, sugar and vanilla bean seeds into a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring it just to boiling point. While the cream mixture is heating, place the gelatine sheets into a bowl of cold water to soften.

When the cream mixture has boiled, take off the heat. Remove gelatine leaves from the water and gently squeeze away the excess water. Add the gelatine and the orange blossom water to the cream mixture, stirring thoroughly to dissolve.

Slowly pour the mixture in a thin stream into the bowl of ricotta , whisking constantly until the mixture is completely smooth. You can strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any lumps if you wish. Divide the pannacotta among 6 dessert glasses or lightly greased moulds and refrigerate until set, this will take about 4 hours.

Before serving, if you wish to unmould, run a sharp knife around the edge and invert onto a serving plate. Top pannacotta with a spoonful of the caramelised oranges.