Photo by Judith Hausman
A California vacation at apricot (and peach) time: aaahhh. We can manage good peaches in the Hudson Valley, but our apricot season is about 30 seconds. While in Northern California, we bought and ate them by the quart. Firm, sweet, tart and juicy, the apricots were everywhere, and we indulged.
But 10 days of being away from our garden meant coming home to a lot of changes. I’d missed a heat wave, but the peas, lettuce and fava beans hadn’t. My garden mates had already pulled out what wasn’t hanging crisp and dry on the vine. On to the next season in the garden: Our first tomatoes are just about ready to be picked, the garlic is ready to be pulled and cured, and the peppers and eggplant are snuggly in the ground. It’s also basil time. I had snipped from my deck plants before vacation, but they are bushy now, ready for pesto and caprese salads.
I began to daydream about combining my favorite vacation treat with this “welcome home” basil, especially because I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with herbal sweets, such as rosemary cookies and sage pound cake. I knew the ubiquitous lavender partnered well with apricots in Californian desserts, and I thought fragrant, almost-minty basil would, too. If fresh apricots are unrealistic in your region, try other stone fruits, such as plums and peaches, or go ahead and gussy up the canned ones.
This is a refreshing, lower-calorie “cooked cream.” You steep the basil leaves (or other herbs) briefly in the milk and then strain them out, but you never have to turn the oven on. You can substitute honey for sugar.
Basil-Scented Panna Cotta with Basil-Poached Apricots
The Panna Cotta:
- 1 packet gelatin
- 1 1/4 cup milk (lower fat is fine)
- ½ cup cream (light or heavy)
- ¼ cup Sugar
- ¼ cup small basil leaves
- ½ teaspoon orange flower water or vanilla
- 1 cup plain yogurt (pick the fat level you like)
Whisk the gelatin into 1/4 cup of cold milk in a small pan. Then stir it as it softens and heat it over low heat until it dissolves. Do not boil. Stir in the basil leaves and the rest of the milk, cream and sugar, stirring until the mix just scalds. Strain the mix into a bowl, and whisk in the vanilla or orange flower water. Set aside until just warm; then stir in the yogurt. This makes one larger panna cotta or six 4-ounce ramekins. Chill until it sets.
- 1 pound apricots, halved and pits removed (Peaches may need to be quartered)
- 1 1/2 cups water (use the canning liquid with canned fruit)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar (less if using canned fruit)
- 1/4 cup Honey
- 8 to 10 basil leaves
Combine water, sugar, and honey in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to help sugar dissolve evenly. Add apricots, reduce heat to medium and poach for 2 to 4 minutes or until soft but still intact. Garnish with a sprinkle of basil flowers.
Spoon some apricots halves and sauce onto each serving of panna cotta.