If you know any Italian words or have eaten at an Italian restaurant, you may already know that panna cotta is not an Irish dessert! It means, “cooked cream” and it’s very similar to custard, but without any eggs. I chose to share a recipe for a dessert this month because St. Patrick knew the sweetness of freedom in Christ. If you don’t know his story, he was captured in Great Britain by Irish raiders and then was enslaved in Ireland. After he escaped, he had a vision to return to his captors and share the gospel with them.
He became a hero in the faith after multitudes were baptized and monasteries were founded through his fruitful efforts. When the Roman Empire suffered heavy invasions throughout Europe, Ireland was missed and many of the church’s important documents and traditions were preserved. Ireland then began sending missionaries to other countries, playing a vital, saving role. In fact, author Thomas Cahill records the story more fully in his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization.
Because Italy was once the epicenter of the Holy Roman Empire, I chose this Italian dessert as the sweet base or palette from which to “paint.” The roasted lemon and Irish whiskey sauce transforms it into something that tells a story of liberation. Culinarily speaking, the lemons are sour and even bitter on their own, yet when they are roasted, they become caramelized and more sweet, especially after the addition of the Irish whiskey, which transforms the dessert into a combination of completion and freedom – freedom to forget everything but the goodness on the spoon! Sweet, sour, bitter, and salty drizzled around the backdrop of velvety cream are what make up the completion of a most attainable dessert.
The true freedom we long for comes at a cost and with a story, whether it’s on a spoon or eternal. St. Patrick knew freedom well because he first knew slavery. If we are in Christ, our debt has been absorbed by Him and we inherit the freedom he purchased. Our call is to receive this freedom and taste its sweetness daily. May we freely share His recipe for freedom with others! First though, enjoy St. Patrick through a section of one of his well known prayers:
“Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.”
1 tablespoon cold water
1 ½ teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
7 tablespoons sugar
2-inch piece of vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, pulp scraped
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
1 large lemon, washed and sliced into thin rounds, and then quartered
¼ cup salted butter (½ stick)
½ cup sugar
¼ cup Irish whiskey (more or less, to your taste)
fine sea salt crystals (omit or to your taste)
- For the panna cotta, place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let the gelatin soften for 5 minutes. Set aside six 4-oz ramekins in the refrigerator until ready to fill.
- In a saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the cream with the 7 tablespoons of sugar and vanilla bean and pulp. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and add the softened gelatin, stirring until it dissolves. Whisk in the buttermilk. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a measuring cup with a spout and pour it into chilled ramekins.
- For the sauce, place butter in a medium-sized skillet and melt over low heat. Once butter has mostly melted and covered the pan, placed lemon slices evenly over the skillet and let them start to caramelize. After about 10 min, they should be softened and evenly golden brown (rotate lemons if heat is uneven). Next, sprinkle sugar evenly over the lemons and let it continue cooking until it dissolves and caramelizes a bit. Swirl pan as needed for even heating. Pour over whiskey and bring to a boil, and then reduce back to low heat and taste. (Keep cooking if sauce needs time to mellow or become more syrupy.)
- After about 2-3 hours, panna cotta should be firm and ready to serve. Remove panna cotta from the refrigerator. With a pairing knife, run around the edge of each ramekin, keeping as close to the sides as possible. Over each dessert plate, lightly tap each ramekin so that it will release gently. Scatter the warm (not overly hot) roasted lemon and whiskey sauce around the panna cotta and serve, sprinkling sea salt very sparsely over the top of each portion.