Stilton Panna Cotta
Last month was the 13th anniversary of “Cheap Eats”. The first column appeared in April 1996. Thirteen years is a long time to write a column, especially as a volunteer. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m a bit weary of this particular project. It’s time to move on.
I still plan on submitting an occasional article, particularly if I’ve had some adventure or other that I think Mensans would find interesting. But the monthly column is being retired. I actually don’t think this will affect more than a few people, as I can’t imagine that many folks are still reading it after all these years. (Note: Cynthia was definitely mistaken; after adding a counter to see how many people visit Cheap Eats early in 2011, I discovered that usually there are quite a few visitors—in fact it’s one of the most popular items on our CAM site.)
For my send-off recipe, I thought I’d give you something that is a bit luxurious—something that would be lovely as a starter for a special dinner party. Panna cotta is normally sweet, but I have created a savory version that gives you the silken texture but with the glorious flavor of Stilton cheese.
This could be made in a single mold, but I like to make it in individual ramekins, then unmold each one on a salad plate and surround it with sliced heirloom tomatoes in at least a couple of colors. A few chives make a nice garnish. A bed of mixed spring greens would be a lovely alternative. If you choose to eat it straight, and not serve it with tomatoes or greens, you may want to reduce the salt in the recipe to about half a teaspoon. Both the cheese and buttermilk are salty, and without the veggies to “share” the salt, the panna cotta may seem a bit salty. (Don’t be afraid to taste it while you’re making it. You can start with ½ tsp. salt and add more near the end.) This is an elegant dish, but is surprisingly easy to prepare. Enjoy.
Stilton Panna Cotta
1½ tsp. powdered, unflavored gelatin
2 Tbs. cold water
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cream
½ cup Stilton cheese
6 whole black peppercorns
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp. salt
Sprinkle the gelatin over the 2 Tbs. of cold water and let stand for five minutes. In a saucepan, warm the buttermilk, cream, cheese, peppercorns, thyme, and salt. Keep the heat LOW, stirring until cheese is melted. Simmer for 5 minutes. Pour through a strainer, discarding the thyme and peppercorns.
Add the softened gelatin to the warm cream mixture, and stir to dissolve. Divide the mixture between six 4-oz. ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours (overnight is better). Unmold on tomatoes or greens, as noted above.
The heat needs to be kept low—just warm enough to melt the cheese and dissolve the gelatin. If it boils, the buttermilk will curdle and the cheese will get stringy. Better to take a little longer than to use too much heat.
And yes, fresh thyme makes a big difference.