a red & white fourth
Fireworks. They are unarguably the best thing about the 4th of July. Whenever I see a firework display, regardless of how elaborate or how long, I revert to being a five year old, hands clapping, eyes fixed and unwavering until the final sparks fade and the thrumming in my ears dies away. Really, there is nothing better than fireworks. The second best thing about the holiday, however, is its simplicity. Friends, family, food, celebration. No travel required, unless the mood takes you. No gift giving, unless you count the day’s spoils of sparklers and ice cream cones. And even the most enthusiastic entertainer is happy to trade fancy feasts for simple delights and easy treats.
Lucky for me, this summer fete coincides with another summer favorite of mine – berry season. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries; they almost always feature in our July 4th menu. My mother will start prepping the crust for her blueberry pies days before the family gathers together. But this year I was craving something else, craving something with cherries. Visions of panna cotta have been swirling around in my head ever since they were served up at an event I did months ago and the chilled silken custard seemed just the thing to pair with a cherry compote.
Ok, so panna cotta doesn’t scream all-American, but it is simple, divine, and – best of all – can be made a day in advance. So can the cherry compote. No need to slave in the kitchen and no need to hover by the oven. It can also be transported in the serving dishes so you can make it picnic-friendly simply by using a disposable or plastic container. You have to love the simplicity – and the time it frees up for fireworks.
Vanilla Panna Cotta (adapted from recipe by E. Michael Reidt, as seen in Food & Wine), serves 8
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
- 2 1/4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
- 3 tablespoons water
1. In medium sauce pan, combine cream, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds. Whisk to combine and break up vanilla bean seeds. Bring mixture to a simmer over moderate heat.
2. Once the liquid begins to simmer remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the water and let stand until evenly moistened, approximately 5 minutes.
3. Uncover cream mixture and return to a simmer over moderately high heat. Once the liquid begins to simmer remove from heat, remove vanilla bean, and stir in gelatin until dissolved.
4. Pour the panna cotta into 4-ounce dishes and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the panna cotta is set but still jiggly, at least 3 hours.
NOTE: panna cotta can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, covered.
Fresh Cherry Compote (very roughly adapted from Jaques Pepin’s red fruit compote recipe), tops 8 panna cottas
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup apple juice
- 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- 1/4 cup good-quality seedless jam, such as strawberry, raspberry, or blackberry
- 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
- 1 pound fresh cherries, washed, pitted, and halved
- granulated sugar to taste
1. In medium nonreactive saucepan, combine white wine, apple juice, orange juice, strawberry jam, and orange zest. Bring to a boil over moderate heat and boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the jam.
2. Add the cherries and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, until the cherries have softened. Using a slotted spoon remove the cherries and place in glass or ceramic bowl.
3. Return the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Drain any juices released by the cherries back into the saucepan. Continue to boil syrup until it is reduced by half and coats the back of a spoon. If you want to make the sauce sweeter add a teaspoon of sugar at a time until you reach desired sweetness.
4. Pour the reduced syrup over the fruit and let cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
5. Spoon over panna cottas prior to serving.