There are food geeks and then there are food geekazoids. I adore them both but I have a particularly soft spot for the latter. I’m really just talking about one person and that’s Jeffrey Steingarten. His book The Man Who Ate Everything is probably the most intensely curious and obsessive account on food I’ve ever read. He’s also hysterically funny. And when he used the word ‘radius’ in his apple pie recipe, there was no turning back. Not that it made me make the pie. I seriously considered doing that as an ode to him but I couldn’t for the life of me understand what the you-know-what he was talking about in the crust part.
The thing is, I think I met another food geekazoid and I kinda feel like I’m cheating on Jeff. Oh wow, I sound hella creepy. Just check this panna cotta recipe, will you? His name is Russ Parsons. Yes, I was looking for a panna cotta recipe because I bought a bunch of beautiful fruit pastes (Pear! Quince! Fig!) and I wanted to eat it with something creamy and decadent. But about that recipe. “Dairy mixes in percent intervals”? Schwing.
To make panna cotta with fig sauce, I used:
2 T water
1 T powdered gelatin
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
5 T sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
canola oil for greasing
For the fig sauce:
2 cups water
4 generous T fig paste
8 dried figs
A splash of passion fruit and mangosteen extract (optional)
1 T cornstarch
About 1 1/2 T water
1. Put 2 T of water into a small bowl and sprinkle in the gelatine. Stir to mix evenly and set aside to soften.
2. Pour cream and milk into a large saucepan. Add in the sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a simmer on medium heat while stirring often. When the mixture starts to simmer, take the saucepan off the stove and whisk in softened gelatine. To make sure the gelatine has been fully dissolved, test a bit of the mixture by rubbing it between your fingers making sure it feels smooth.
3. I’m supposed to take this mixture to an ice bath according to the original recipe to cool it down considerably but I couldn’t be bothered (Sorry, Russ.). I greased my panna cotta dishes (just some shallow all-purpose bowls) with canola oil and then filled them up. I did wait a bit though before I covered with cling wrap and popped them in the fridge to set.
4. I kept the panna cotta in the fridge overnight but got started on my fig sauce right away. To make, put 2 cups water, fig paste and the passionfruit and mangosteen extract into a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. The fruit extract was an afterthought – it’s really tart and fruity so I thought it would help brighten up the sauce. I also tossed in the dried figs and kept them there for about 15 minutes to rehydrate. Once done, I set aside the figs and then thickened the liquid with some cornstarch slurry.
I could hardly wait but I was very good until the next morning and checked on my panna cotta in the fridge. Gave the dishes a good jiggle to make sure everything had set. I left them out to thaw a little bit, about 5 minutes, and then put a plate on top of the panna cotta dish and inverted so the panna cotta would land on it. To serve, I drizzled with fig sauce and dotted with sliced figs.
OK. I’ve taken some decent pictures of food but these shots are making me burst with fruit flavor inside. And the panna cotta. The panna cotta. If this is the gold standard, then all the panna cottas I’ve had so far are way too stiff. This one has the texture and consistency of silken tofu and when you dig in, you’re pretty sure it’s gonna unravel into a puddle but it somehow manages to hold itself together until the end. It’s pretty magical. The fig sauce, with the seeds that pop in your mouth, is FIGgin’ awesome.
Halfway through this dish, I offered a spoon-bump to all the food geekzoids of the world who make dreamy panna cotta possible.
Fun Food Fact: I initially wanted to make this with gulaman powder because it was all I had. But I didn’t wanna go through the trouble only to find out it wasn’t gonna work (it’s what sets me apart from food geekazoids) so I gave Chef Jackie Ang-Po a quick ring to consult. Turns out gelatine comes from an animal source and gulaman powder from a plant source. You’ll also need a lot more gulaman powder to get the same results. Thanks, Chef Jackie!