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Friday, October 19, 2007

Pumpkin and Coconut Milk "Panna Cotta", or on being accidentally vegan and gluten free!


Sometimes a kitchen mishap can turn into a beautiful inspiration, like the other day when I overcooked a Thai dessert. I was making one of my favorite desserts from childhood, a sweet soup with chunks of pumpkins swimming in creamy coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar. The trick of it is to cook the pumpkin pieces just so that they are softened and cooked through, but still remain in tact – true to the Thai name of this dessert, "ordained pumpkin". The orange pumpkin chunks are shrouded in white, hence the name, you see? The overcooked soup - with broken bits of pumpkin tainting the white coconut milk a pretty shade of orange – was still good, but it could no longer be called ordained.

The color of the overdone soup was so pretty however, and the flavor no less delicious, that I thought I could play with this and turn it into something. So I pulled out the stick blender and puree the ingredients into a smooth cream, added a little bit of gelatin, et voila, a brand new dessert. It's a sort of Asian take on the Italian classic Panna Cotta. It retains the traits of Panna Cotta, cooked cream thickened ever so slightly with gelatin, cooled, then unmolded into a quivering mass, a spoonful of which melts into nothingness as it touches the tongue.

This pumpkin-coconut "panna cotta" has nearly the same silky texture, unmolds into just as trembling, quivering mound, but with an added bonus of being dairy free (for your lactose intolerant guests) and could even be vegan if using Agar Agar powder to thicken instead of gelatin. If you didn't want to bother with unmolding it to serve, just pour the warm mixture into old jam jars or small glasses instead of panna cotta molds. When it's cooled enough to set and serve, stick a spoon in it and call it a Pumpkin Pot de Crème.

With Thanksgiving festivities coming up, this dessert could be a delicious alternative for your finicky and dietarily restricted guests.

Poured into a pre-baked gluten free pie crust, cooled in the fridge until set, it will make a gluten free and dairy free pumpkin pie that even the most die hard butter and cream lovers can adore.

Use a vegan pie crust instead, and Agar Agar to thicken in place of gelatin, you've got yourself the smoothest and creamiest vegan pumpkin pie you'll ever have.

I love it when a mistake turns into such pretty, delicious, versatile - if accidental - invention.

Img_8618 Pumpkin and Coconut Milk "Panna Cotta"

2 heaping cups of pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into small cubes
This should be about 10oz or 300g of pumpkin. You can also use one cup of pumpkin puree instead. I use Kabocha or Potimarron, but I'm sure any pumpkin would work just fine.
1.5 cups (3.5dl) coconut milk
1 cup (2.5dl) water
1/2 (packed) cup (100g), palm sugar or brown sugar
1tsp salt
1 packet powdered gelatin, or 5g of sheet gelatin, or 1 tsp Agar Agar powder*

If using powdered gelatin, mix it with half the cup of water and let stand five minutes.

If using sheet gelatin, soak the sheets in enough water to cover until soft. Remove the gelatin sheets and squeeze out excess water and set aside.

In a medium pot, add the cubed pumpkin, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin cubes are very soft. Add the gelatin water, gelatin sheets, or Agar Agar powder. Puree the mixture with a stick blender until smooth. You can also transfer the ingredients into a stand blender to puree, then pour the liquid back into the pot. Continue to simmer for five more minutes. Remove from heat and pour into panna cotta molds or jam jars, (or a pre-baked pie crust.) Let cool in the fridge until set. Unmold to serve or just stick a spoon in it!

*A little note on Agar Agar powder: desserts thickened with gelatin will melt at much lower temperature than dessert thickened with Agar Agar. The plus for Agar Agar is it will unmold easier, and your panna cotta stays in shape for a long time even at room temperature, whereas the one thickened with gelatin should be served soon after it leaves the fridge. Beware that panna cotta thickened with Agar will not melt in your mouth and give you the same creamy mouthfeel as one that uses gelatin. But if you are particular with animal products, from which gelatin is made, then Agar Agar will be a good solution for you.


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