Dig in: Basil Panna Cotta

Savory herbs show their sweet side in this sublime dessert.
Basil panna cotta from The Spence/Andrea Litvin

Basil panna cotta from The Spence/Andrea Litvin

Photo by: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser/Our Labor of Love

Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser/Our Labor of Love

Garnished with macerated strawberries, Andrea Litvin's basil panna cotta makes a stellar summer treat.

Thanks to her mother, pastry chef Andrea Litvin can’t bear to eat a store-bought peach. “She was always bringing home amazing peaches from school,” says Litvin, whose mother worked in the University of Georgia’s horticulture department. “I don’t find a generic peach the least bit satiating.”

Litvin’s mother worked in pomology studies, researching salt tolerance in peach rootstocks and the ways plants react to frost protection. At home, she helped Litvin grow her first zucchini, which became baked squash. “It had such an intense flavor, she says. “When you put the effort into growing food, you find it far more satisfying and precious. You don’t want to waste any part of a plant when you’ve been watching it grow for three months!”

Savory herbs like rue and borage find their way into Litvin’s desserts at The Spence restaurant in Atlanta—and basil steals the show in her panna cotta recipe below—but lots of vegetables make the cut as well. “I use a lot of savory herbs in my desserts, but I also find myself reaching towards things like corn, cucumber, peas and even eggplant,” she says. “I’ve found many culinary traditions where these types of things are used in sweet applications. It’s easy to find inspiration in any produce when it's beautiful and has really defined flavor.”

Basil Panna Cotta

11 ounces heavy cream
.5 ounce sugar
1 sheet gelatin
3 medium-sized basil leaves
1 cup strawberries

Combine the sugar and heavy cream and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the basil. Let steep for 30 minutes.

Bloom the gelatin in ice water.

Strain and reheat the cream mixture. Whisk in the gelatin sheet.

Pour into your preferred container and cover in plastic wrap. Let chill for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Litvin garnishes her plate with a cup of strawberries macerated in 1 part white wine, 1 part simple syrup and a bit of fresh vanilla bean. 

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