Whole30 (the 30-day elimination diet whereby I banned alcohol, legumes, grains, sugar and dairy from my diet) is so, incredibly, dramatically over. My slow slide out of my clean-eatin’ self started when I realized I’d jam-packed our schedule full to the brim of visits with friends, nights out with moms, and a wine-soaked weekend in San Francisco for a good friend’s wedding. I really wanted my life after this amazing, life-changing diet to forever be different. I wanted to exude kale, radiate from my newly-dewy skin and generally be myself, only better. Way better.
I have to say that I’ve done well in the sense that I’m not senselessly snacking on carbs, dairy and sugar anymore, and Whole30 has taught me that I should avoid dairy if at all possible. It’s a sad thing to admit, mainly because I really love a good cheese every now and again. But dairy — as evidenced by the, ahem, violent gastrointestinal reaction that I had to a single cracker spread with pimento cheese (okay, more like heaped) — is not my friend. We’re more like happy acquaintances. We’re delighted to run into each other every now and again, but when we get stuck talking to each other at parties for longer than 15 minutes, things go south really fast.
That’s what brings me to today’s delightful little dessert, which is a dairy-free coconut panna cotta with cherries. It’s made from full-fat coconut milk and sweetened with raw honey. I have to admi that I was dubious when I first tried to make this panna cotta, but when it turned out springy yet yielding with a wobble at the first gentle touch of my spoon, I knew I had a winner. For those following a paleo diet, this is a nice sweet end to a meal with friends. Alternatively, it can also be eaten at the end of a hard day, in lieu of that well-deserved glass of wine. Actually, you can have the wine, too. I never said I was a dietitian — just an enabler.
For you die hard readers of Grits & Chopsticks out there (hey, Mom), you might recall that this isn’t the first time I’ve posted about panna cotta. In fact, I’ve been kind of obsessed with panna cotta ever since I had the most heavenly wiggly little cup of the stuff in Nice, France, at an upscale neighborhood joint called Bistrot d’Antoine. Everything that happened at that bistro was magic, from the braised pork cheeks to the reinvented salade nicoise, so much so that when this unassuming glass of creamy custard was put in front of us, I expressed skepticism. I’d had panna cottas before. However, as I glided my demitasse spoon across the tense surface of pureed berries and broke into custard, I was a changed woman. The lightness of the panna cotta, combined with the tart sweetness of the berry puree, was heaven. I have never eaten a panna cotta quite the same way since, making each bite a wishful one that would transport me back to that sunny day in Nice when I fell in love with a custard.
As all of my recipes often area, this coconut panna cotta with cherries is easy, easy, easy. With summer cherries plentifully available at just about every grocery store right now, just invest in a two-pound bag and use some of the plumpest ones as a topping for your panna cotta. The cherries are a really easy tart/sweet contrast. Once pitted and sliced open, the juice dribbles and stains the top of the coconut panna cotta, seeping into the mild flavor of the custard and adding freshness and flavor. The coconut milk is subtly masked by the addition of pure vanilla extract, but it doesn’t take away from its tropical, sexy feel.
Ahh, sexy panna cotta. Can I get any better than this? (Say no. Just say no. I’m old and go to bed at 10:30 and don’t want to know truly how lame I am.)
- 2 14-ounce cans of full-fat coconut milk (I prefer the consistency of Thai Kitchen organic or Whole Foods brand)
- ¼ cup raw honey
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 package Knox gelatin (or 2 teaspoons grass-fed gelatin, if available)
- ½ lb pitted sweet cherries, sliced in half
- Pour 1 cup coconut milk in a small saucepan and whisk thoroughly until smooth (sometimes coconut milk separates while it sits on the shelf, so you may have to whisk it to break up clumps and fully incorporated it back together. Alternatively, shake the can vigorously before you open it to make sure the milk mixes back into its smooth, silky self).
- Whisk in the gelatin and let the coconut milk mixture sit for 5-7 minutes. Do not stir (this is very important -- gelatin reacts with liquids to "bloom" and basically form lumpy clear bits that look sort of like it's curdling).
- Add in the vanilla extract, then heat the pan over medium-low heat, whisking thoroughly to make sure the gelatin dissolves. Let steam rise from the surface of the milk, but don't bring it to a boil.
- Remove saucepan from heat and stir in honey and remaining coconut milk.
- Pour the coconut milk mixture into 6 small ramekins (or 8 very small dessert dishes). Arrange the ramekins on a baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-4 hours until set.
- When ready to serve, remove ramekins from refrigerator and fill the tray with hot water. Let ramekins sit for 2-3 minutes, then loosen the sides by running a sharp utility knife along the edge. Invert onto a dessert plate, top with cherries and serve immediately. (Alternatively, you can skip this step by just serving the dessert in ramekins, like I do.)
This recipe was inspired by Detoxinista and Deliciously Organic