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Grapefruit-Mint Panna Cotta: A Taste of Spring

Carla Hall says you can use creme fraiche in this panna cotta, or substitute a mixture of sour cream and heavy cream.
Guy Raz
/
NPR
Carla Hall says you can use creme fraiche in this panna cotta, or substitute a mixture of sour cream and heavy cream.
Carla Hall prepares mint and basil for the panna cotta.  Be sure to chop these soft herbs with a sharp knife, otherwise you'll end up with bruised black flecks in your dessert.
Guy Raz / NPR
/
NPR
Carla Hall prepares mint and basil for the panna cotta. Be sure to chop these soft herbs with a sharp knife, otherwise you'll end up with bruised black flecks in your dessert.

This time of year it seems like winter will never let go. But caterer and Top Chef finalist Carla Hall brings an early taste of spring a pink grapefruit and mint panna cotta. Winter is citrus season, and Hall tells NPR's Guy Raz that grapefruit is often overlooked. "The skin is bitter," she says, but when you're just concentrating on the pulp, it is amazingly wonderful."

Panna cotta is basically a mixture of milk and cream set with gelatin — you can flavor it with almost anything. In this recipe, Hall adds bite to the richness of the cream by adding the cooked-down grapefruit juice, lime zest and finely-chopped green herbs.

Raz and Hall ran into a bit of difficulty at the supermarket: The recipe calls for fresh tarragon, and there was none on the shelf. "If you had this recipe and there was no tarragon, you still move forward," Hall says, and she settles on basil as an appropriate substitute. Basil has some of the same mint and licorice overtones as tarragon. Hall says she wants people to be able to deal with setbacks and mistakes, and to be able to think outside the recipe.

"Does the recipe know your palate?" she asks. "Does the recipe know that the grapefruits you got maybe weren't that sweet? What do you do about it? Do you follow the recipe and then say, well, that was nasty? No! You fix it. I want to teach people how to get that flavor, and how to have a successful recipe without the recipe dictating to them."

But there is one thing you should be strict about, and that's the straining. "Who wants globs?" Hall says. Panna cotta needs to be glassy-smooth on the tongue, so Hall puts the cream, grapefruit and gelatin mixture through a sieve to get rid of those globs before adding the chopped herbs. Then she pours the mixture into a greased mold and pops it in the refrigerator to set.

This is a fairly quick and easy recipe, even if you're goofing around and having fun in the kitchen, according to Hall. And, she says, it's great for parties, because you can make it ahead of time, pour it into little individual serving bowls and leave it alone overnight.

Garnished with a port wine and pomegranate reduction, some peeled grapefruit segments and some candied lime peel that Hall just happened to have lying around, the panna cotta is a mouthful of sunlight — tart, creamy and perfectly smooth. "Spring has arrived early in my kitchen," she announces.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.