Meyer-Lemon Panna Cotta

Last week I was at AJ’s perusing the produce department when my heart skipped a beat…they had Meyer lemons! I quickly put some in my cart and my mind raced with ideas on what to make with them.
Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between lemons and mandarin oranges. They are less tart than regular lemons, have a very thin skin, and when ripe, have an orange tint. They are fantastic in both sweet and savory recipes as well as cocktails!
By the time I got home, I settled on making Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta.  Panna Cotta, which literally means “cooked cream” in Italian, is a wonderful, creamy eggless custard. It only takes a few minutes to prepare but it will make your guests feel like you’ve spent hours making them a fancy dessert.  Panna Cotta can be served with fruit coulis, chocolate sauce, caramel, fresh berries, or a simple honey drizzle.  You can chill them in small dishes or ramekins and before serving, you can unmold them onto a plate, and pour the sauce around them. If you don’t want to deal with unmolding them, you can chill them in glasses or jelly jars (my preference) and serve with the sauce on top.  Panna cotta needs time to chill and set so it’s best to make it the night before you are planning to serve it. You can actually make it a couple of days in advance, just keep it covered and chilled.  If you don’t have Meyer lemons, you can use regular lemons, just adjust the sugar to your liking. I really liked how this came out – creamy, perfect balance between tart and sweet, and very clean on the palate.

Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta

Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta with Raspberry Chambord Sauce

makes six ¾ cup servings
*if you will be unmolding these, lightly oil your custard cups with a neutral tasting oil

1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
½ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup crème fraiche (I get mine at Trader Joe’s, I’m sure it’s available at AJs, too)
zest from 2 lemons
5 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
2 teaspoons (1 packet) unflavored gelatin

In a heavy saucepan, combine milk, cream, sugar, & salt. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the saucepan along with the pod. Add lemon zest. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.
Pour lemon juice into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let gelatin soften, about 5-10 minutes.   Slowly re-heat the milk mixture – you need it to be hot enough to dissolve the gelatin but not boiling.  Remove from heat, whisk the gelatin mixture into the milk mixture until gelatin has dissolved. Strain the milk mixture into a large bowl to remove the lemon zest, vanilla bean pod, and small bits of gelatin that didn’t dissolve.  Whisk in the crème fraiche until well blended.   Divide among the custard cups, cover, and chill overnight until set.

For the sauce:  (this recipe is just a guide, feel free to make your own substitutions)
12 oz frozen raspberries (you can also use blackberries, mixed berries, etc. )
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons Chambord (optional)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference. Strain & press mixture into a bowl to remove seeds. Cover and chill until ready to use. (Can be made 2 days ahead)

If unmolding panna cotta, run small knife around each one. Place bottoms of custard cups, one at a time, in hot water for about 1 minute. Place plate on top of cup, hold both together and invert. Gently shake the cup to turn out panna cotta. Serve with sauce.   Enjoy!

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