Spring is being coy. I never did have an appetite for coy; I like my seasons as I like everything, all out on the table. I don’t have time for a tease. But the trees keep budding despite the obstinate chill, and the shears I carry around in my purse have been getting plenty of action. A spray of forsythia here, a shivering cherry tree there. My porch is no longer barren; instead herbs have taken up residence in my motley crew of pots, and everything has been swept finally clean. My birkenstocks have already made one appearance, and today it’s truly warm. Warm by my reptilian standards; I have cold blood it would seem. Animation is creeping in, and it’s contagious. The produce! I look forward to weeks of berries, nettles, and garlic scapes—some of my favorite spoils of spring.
As a lot of you know, we just completed a kitchen renovation. Here are a few little peeks, the final reveal will come, but I’m a little bent on getting everything *just so*. The wildly talented team Tara & Percy of the Jersey Ice Cream Co. made my dream kitchen a reality, and I don’t think I have the words for how grateful I am for their hard work & vision. Aesthetically, we had perfect synergy. And that’s a helluva unicorn for me to find. As for the range—that range. It feels like a dream to have a freakishly amazing Lacanche in my humble little Tennessee kitchen. I’m intimidated by it. I’m in love with it. I now swear by the gas oven. And it will be the cornerstone of my work for countless years to come. It will, no doubt, be making many a cameo on this space. My life revolves around this one room, even when I’m on the road or shooting at another location, this is where I center.
I cooked my very first dinner in the new space this past weekend; I was finally home. I’ll be posting the full party in a couple of days, but let’s have dessert first. This panna cotta, inspired by my nightly cups of herbal tea—potent sleep elixers full of hops, chamomile, mugwort, and damiana, is perfectly subtle. I didn’t want much to compete with the chamomile flavor-wise, so I opted for a vanilla bean and nothing more. Vanilla has a way of turning up flavors; it enhances without overpowering. I knew I wanted to make an olive oil shortbread with a citrus component, and I ended up adapting this recipe by Cookie + Kate. It turned out to be perfect for this application here, a crescent of crumbs that mingle with the cream like a crust. I also served bars of it alongside the panna cotta, because: moar cookies. The salt in the shortbread really rounds the whole thing out, as do a few tiny mint leaves. Suffice to say, I think I’ll be making a lot more panna cotta. It’s painfully easy, but the result is something altogether luxurious and sublime—silky and light. I use the recipe from the New York Times as my base; I think the ratio of cream to gelatin in it is perfect. Other ratios I’ve tried have resulted in a panna cotta that’s too firm for my taste. I like it to be set but very creamy, as it should be. You can substitute half and half for half the cream in the recipe. But why? Okay, I get why. But the flavor and texture of pure cream is, in this cook’s opinion, untouchable. And a tip on unmolding: set the dish in a bowl of very hot water for about 30 seconds to a minute and then proceed to gently invert onto a plate. Or just eat them straight out of the dish!
This creamy panna cotta, perfumed with chamomile, is the perfect consistency and the ideal dessert to welcome spring. It's easy enough to make on a week night, can be made ahead, and, served with shortbread crumbs (recipe below) and a few fresh herbs, it's a special, dinner guest worthy dessert.
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 packet unflavored gelatin (2 teaspoons)
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds and pod ( can sub 1 tsp vanilla extract)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup dried chamomile flowers
- Pour one cup of the cream into a medium sauce pan; sprinkle the gelatin over the surface and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Heat on low, stirring, until the gelatin has fully dissolved.
- Add in the rest of the cream, vanilla beans scraped from the pod, the pods themselves, chamomile flowers, and the sugar. Cook on medium heat until it's just about to boil, until one or two bubbles arise around the edges of the pot.
- Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steep for 30 minutes.
- Strain mixtures through a cheese cloth lines sieve into a bowl. Squeeze the remnants in the cheese cloth to get all of that good chamomile flavor!
- Ladle the mixture into custard cups or whatever dish you choose. Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Once set, they can be covered and stored up to 24 hours.
- To unmold (if desired), run enough hot water in a shallow bowl or pan to come 3/4 the way up the sides of your panna cotta cups. Set the panna cotta in the hot water for about 30 seconds and proceed to gently invert onto a plate. Refresh the hot water as needed to continue unmolding the panna cotta.
- Garnish with crumbled shortbread & a little fresh mint. Candied lemon peel would be excellent too! (recipe below).
Adapted from The New York Times
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I added an extra pinch because I like salty sweet)
- 3 tablespoons of poppy seeds
- the zest of two lemons
- 1 cup olive oil (of a good, flavorful quality)
- Heat your oven to 325°F.
- In a mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, poppy seeds, and lemon zest.
- Pour in the olive oil and mix until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.
- Pat the dough out into a 9x9" baking pan, and bake for 40-45 minutes until the edges are golden and it's just set. I baked it on convection, see below for notes on that adjusted cooking time.
- Allow to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, and then cut into 1x2" bars with a knife. This is a thick, crumbly shortbread.
Recipe adapted from Cookie + Kate