Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Poached Rhubarb

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Recipe by Laurie Pfalzer

Photo by Charity Burggraaf

We’re lucky to have the first rhubarb in the markets by mid-February. Early hothouse rhubarb is not to be missed, with its brilliant pink color and intense flavor. I depend on Richter Farms in the Puyallup Valley, who grows rhubarb for us to enjoy each early spring. This panna cotta is so simple, and the creaminess of the dairy (with just a hint of tang from the creme fraiche) showcases the tart rhubarb. In other seasons, replace the rhubarb with any seasonal fruit: poached, roasted, or sautéed. 

Serves 6 | 1 1/2 hours active, 3 hours inactive

1 packet (about 2 1/2 teaspoons) powder gelatin

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

Combine gelatin powder and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes to bloom.

Combine sugar, cream, milk, and vanilla bean pod and pulp in a medium pot. Heat until very warm and the sugar is dissolved. 

Whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into the bloomed gelatin to dissolve the gelatin. Whisk the gelatin mixture into the pot and whisk in creme fraiche or sour cream. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. 

Pour the panna cotta mixture into 6 small, deep bowls, such as 4-ounce ramekins. Chill for 3 hours or until set.

Poached Rhubarb

1 hour

1 quart water

2 cups granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, whole and unsplit

2 strips orange zest

1 strip lemon zest

2 large stalks rhubarb, cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces

Combine all ingredients except the rhubarb in a large, uncovered pot. Heat to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to very low and steep the poaching liquid for 30 minutes to infuse the flavors. Increase heat to medium-low so that the liquid stays just below simmer. Add rhubarb and cover with a circle of parchment to keep it submerged. Poach the rhubarb until it is tender, but not falling apart—about 15 to 25 minutes. Gently move the rhubarb onto a plate and chill until cool. The liquid can be stored in the refrigerator and used as poaching liquid again. 

When you are ready to serve, place 2–3 pieces of rhubarb on top of each panna cotta. 


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