OK, first off I have to admit that I totally ripped off the idea of serving this panna cotta in little flip-top jars from my favorite LA Italian restaurant – Sotto, on Pico Boulevard here in Los Angeles. I had all these little anchovy jars around my house that I had saved over the years, so it was a perfect fit. And it’s a perfect fit for panna cotta (cooked milk) because you just seal them up and put them in the refrigerator for storage. The seal keeps the mild panna cotta from absorbing refrigerator odors.
And second, making this for a client dinner party where I was unsure about dietary restrictions I might encounter, I made the panna cotta using agar-agar to make this dessert vegetarian, vs. using gelatin, which is an animal product.
The various components of this dessert can all be made several days in advance and assembled right before serving. Keep the panna cotta and the peach compote in the refrigerator, and the shortbread cookies in an airtight container.
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2 ½ cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 4 teaspoons agar-agar flakes (Whole Foods sells Eden Agar Agar Flakes)
- 4 peaches (somewhere between rock hard and overripe) – substitute other stone fruit as you desire
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- Juice from ½ a lemon
Pistachio short bread cookies:
- 1 cup unsalted pistachio meat and pieces (Trader Joe’s sells a great product)
- 1 ¼ cups flour
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 stick of butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Small flip-top jars or other similar containers – if using a simple open dish, be sure to cover with plastic wrap when storing in the refrigerator
- Large wire whisk
- Tea strainer or other fine mesh strainer
- Sheet pan lined with parchment
- Square-shaped cookie cutter
To make the panna cotta:
- Using a sharp paring knife, slice the vanilla bean open on one side and scrap the contents into a heavy sauce pot. Add the vanilla bean pod as well. Add the whole milk, heavy cream and sugar and bring close to a boil.
- Add the agar agar and whisk vigorously until dissolved. About 10 minutes. Make sure the agar agar has dissolved by running a tea strainer through the mixture. You should only catch the vanilla seeds. If there are still agar agar flakes visible, keep whisking.
- Discard the vanilla bean pod and evenly distribute the mixture among the small clamp-lid jars. This is most easily done if you transfer the panna cotta mixture to a large measuring cup (in batches if needed).
- Let the panna cotta cool to near room temperature. Then seal the jars and refrigerate overnight.
To make the peach compote:
- Peel the peaches by making an “X” on the bottom of each peach, placing in boiling water for 1 minute and then submerging in ice water until cool. The peach should easily peel at this point.
- Roughly slice the peaches and put in a small sauce pan with the sugar and lemon juice.
- Cook over low heat until the peaches have fallen apart, stirring occasionally with a small wooden spoon.
- Again using a spoon, mash up the remaining whole peaches to a rough consistency.
- Allow to cool before storing in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
To make the pistachio shortbread cookies:
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to a fine consistency. Add 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time down the food processor tube until the mixture comes together in a course dough.
- Pour out the mixture onto a sheet of wax paper and cover with a second sheet. Using you hand at first and then switching to a rolling pin, flatten the dough out to consistent ¼-inch thickness. You will cut the cookies into squares so square up the dough buy rearranging the dough into a rectangle.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Cut the cookies out into 2-inch-or-so squares. Using a square cookie cutter is the easiest way to do this. Arrange on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper leaving at least one inch between each cookie.
- Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.
To assemble and serve:
- Arrange the flip top jars on a paper napkin on a plate as shown. The paper napkin prevents the jar from sliding around.
- Crumble a few of the cookies.
- Top each jar of panna cotta with the peach compote, some sliced mint and some crumbled cookies. Place each jar on a small plate with a cookie or two, and serve.