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Eat this! Panna cotta, cream that quivers

Courtright’s lobster salad with horseradish panna cotta and aged-balsamic-pickled raspberries.

Courtright’s lobster salad with horseradish panna cotta and aged-balsamic-pickled raspberries.

What it is: Panna cotta, “cooked cream” in Italian, is a delicate dessert of milk or cream set with gelatin — milk Jell-O, if you will. In its most traditional form, it’s flavored simply with vanilla, but creative chefs do all kinds of things with it, even turning it into a savory dish.

Jerome Bacle

Jerome Bacle

For the recent 15th-anniversary dinner of Courtright’s in Willow Springs, Chef Jerome Bacle created a horseradish panna cotta topped with lobster salad and berries soaked in aged balsamic vinegar. The appetizer was so popular, it has since been added to the regular menu.

Where it comes from: Sometimes called budino delle Langhe, panna cotta appears to come from northern Italy, likely originating after commercial gelatin production began in Europe in the 17th century. It’s commonly found today in Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta and Tuscany.

What to do with it: Panna cotta lends itself to all kinds of flavorings — spirits such as rum or brandy, aromatic herbs, chocolate, coffee … or whatever you like. Some versions light the mixture with yogurt. It’s often served with fruit or a fruit or caramel sauce.

Use a light hand with the gelatin. Traditionally, panna cotta is called a dolce a cucchiaio, a light and quivery “spoon desert.” British restaurant critic Jay Rayner famously told a TV audience, “A good panna cotta, if it’s set right, is meant to wobble like a woman’s breasts,” an observation he earlier credited to Chef Rebecca Blackstone.

Courtright’s lobster salad with horseradish panna cotta and aged-balsamic-pickled raspberries
Chef Jerome Bacle

Horseradish panna cotta:
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
2 gelatin leaves or 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin, soaked in cold water
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoon grated fresh horseradish (or bottled horseradish)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Balsamic-pickled raspberries:
1 pint of fresh raspberries
1 cup aged balsamic vinegar.

Lobster salad:
1 2-pound live Maine lobster
1 gallon water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 piece cheesecloth
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup mirepoix (diced mixed carrots, onions and celery)
1-1/2 lemons
Cold water and ice
Zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare the panna cotta: Bring the cream to a boil, remove from the heat and add the gelatin; let cool to room temperature. Mix the mayonnaise and horseradish together. Add the lemon juice to the mayonnaise and gently mix into the cream with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into 4 martini glasses, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours before serving.

Pickle the raspberries: Put the raspberries in a small bowl and cover them with the balsamic vinegar; let soak for 3 hours. Drain, reserving the liquid for the lobster salad.

Cook the lobster: Bring the water to boil in a large pot; add kosher salt. Make a sachet using the cheesecloth, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorn. Add the mirepoix and a half lemon.

Prepare a large bowl of water and ice. When the broth is ready and boiling, add the whole lobster and let cook 7 minutes covered with a lid. When cooked, remove the lobster and shock by immersing in the ice water bath for a few minutes, until the lobster is completely cooled.

Prepare the lobster salad: Break down and shell the lobster. Chop the knuckles and claws, and slice the tail into medallions.

Mix the pickling liquid drained from the raspberries, the lime zest, juice of one lemon, the olive oil and chopped tarragon. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve until ready to serve, then remix and toss with the lobster.

To serve: Put some lobster salad on the panna cotta and add some pickled raspberries. 4 servings.
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