One of the beautiful things about summer eating is simplicity. Sliced tomatoes, simply boiled corn, fresh fruit tumbled over a scoop of ice cream. There isn’t really much reason to undertake complicated cooking. But every once in a while, I want to use the lovely ingredients to make something more composed. I’ve been dancing around the idea of a savory panna cotta for awhile, reading recipes and ideas, imagining flavor combinations. I settled on a goat cheese, because I knew it would create the creamy texture of a classic panna cotta with a delightful tang. At first I the idea of a classic tomato and herb complement was rattling around in my head, until I was enjoying a classic watermelon and feta salad and it clicked. Sweet watermelon and tart goat cheese, soft panna cotta with crisp melon.
I once thought panna cotta was one of those complicated, tricky restaurant only dishes, requiring special equipment and advanced techniques. But this could not be any easier. Just a swirl in the blender and some time in the fridge. But the presentation is genuinely impressive. The delicate balance of flavors and bright white and pink colors, with little flecks of green, is perfect for late summer entertaining. I love sugar baby watermelons, but any local, fresh, seasonal watermelon will do. You’ll have some left over, which is a wonderful bonus! I serve this a first course, but it could make a light summer meal centered on a fresh green salad.
Savory Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Watermelon Relish
- Goat Cheese Panna Cotta
4 ounces soft goat cheese
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
A pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup plain whole milk yogurt
- Watermelon Relish
2 cups finely diced watermelon
3 green onions, white and pale green parts, finely diced
1 Tablespoon finely chopped mint
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
- For the Panna Cotta
- Crumble the goat cheese into the carafe of a blender and leave to come to room temperature. Sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup warm water in a small bowl and stir to combine a little.
- Add a pinch of salt a few grinds of pepper to the goat cheese in the blender. Warm the cream in a small saucepan over medium low heat, stirring a couple of times, until it is just warmed through and lightly steaming, not boiling. Pour the warm cream over the goat cheese in the blender and blend until smooth and the goat cheese is melted and incorporated. Add the softened gelatin and blend again until smooth. Add the yogurt and blend until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt if needed.
- Brush 6 4-ounce ramekins lightly with olive oil. Divide the goat cheese mixture evenly between the ramekins, filling almost to the top. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours, or up to a day ahead.
- When ready to serve, run a small thin knife blade around the edges of the panna cotta to release, then invert the ramekins onto small plates. Leave for a moment, then lift off the ramekins. You can do this up to an hour ahead and leave in the fridge until right before serving. If needed, blot off any excess oil gently with a paper towel. Top with the relish and serve immediately. (You can serve the panna cotta straight from the ramekins topped with the relish if you don’t want to fiddle with the flip, but they do look pretty impressive turned out).
- For the Watermelon Relish
- Combine the diced watermelon, green onions and mint in a bowl and toss together. Pour over the vinegar and olive oil and gently stir to combine. If your watermelon is not particularly sweet, you can add a touch of honey. Add a pinch of salt and few grinds of pepper to taste. Let the relish sit for at least 5 minutes, but no more than 20. Drain any excess liquid from the relish and spoon over the top of the panna cotta. You can dice the watermelon several hours early, but do not mix it with the oil and vinegar too soon or it will become a watery mess.