I love the silkiness of panna cotta and decided to try an unsweetened version of this Italian custard with cheese and olives. Turns out panna cotta makes a wonderful appetizer, especially when served with cherry tomato "raisins" and thin triangles of hearty toasted bread. This cream-colored panna cotta is satiny in texture, the subtle cheese counterpointed by intense hits of flavor from the dark chunks of olive. You can enjoy this appetizer year-round.
Although I created the Tomato Raisins for the Olive Panna Cotta, I have since found so many other ways to serve them: on antipasto platters, alongside scrambled eggs for breakfast, tossed on top of salads or bruschetta, in pastas, or as a garnish for main courses.
For the Panna Cotta:
1/4 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
For the Tomato Raisins:
1 pint cherry tomatoes, stems left on
Distribute the olives evenly among six 5-ounce ramekins and set aside.
Pour the milk into a small bowl and add the gelatin, stirring to dissolve. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream just to the boiling point. When small bubbles begin to form, slowly pour in the gelatin mixture. Whisk well until dissolved. Stir in the cheese and remove from the heat.
Pour the mixture into the ramekins, filling each one about three-quarters full. Cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To make the Tomato Raisins:
Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C; Gas Mark 6).
Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil and salt and spread them on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until soft and wrinkly. Halfway through roasting, give the pan a good shake to turn the tomatoes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the tomatoes cool. If you're not using them right away, transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Serve chilled or let them come to room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.
Garnish panna cotta with tomato raisins and serve.
Yield: Serves 6; Makes about 1 cup of tomato raisins
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