Back in grade 6 one of my friends would yell at me in gym class. It was an effortless thing for them:
Get the ball!
Having someone to push you to do things often feels uncomfortable or unbearable or simply terrifying. And it can continue to feel that way even when it’s something you actually want to do–like try your best in gym without caring about what others thought–because staying in the comfort zone is of course the best possible option. But when you take a breath of air outside you realize there was some purpose to all that fuss and kerfuffle.
More than anything else, it was my friend’s verbal barrage that gave me permission to try in what was otherwise the cruel and unforgiving world of physical education. It wasn’t exactly encouragement of the typical variety (which I am generally disposed to), but it was exactly what I needed. It was as far as possible from that apathy easily misconstrued as quiet uncomfortable pity which makes you want to run away without trying.
And so it’s then that you realize that someone who makes a fuss and pushes you to try does so because they care about you in some way or another.
Ah yes, the layered jelly. This one starts with a basil vanilla panna cotta, and as I learned previously, there is nothing better than pairing a panna cotta with something tart and fruity.
This jelly is tart and lightly sweet, exactly what is needed to work through the rich panna cotta. If you’re like me and squeeze everything a bit too tightly through the jelly bag, your rose-coloured rhubarb and cardamom jelly will acquire a dusky cloudiness–it tends to remind me of unfiltered beer, which is delicious and yet not the loveliest image. But the cloudiness also lends this jelly a sort of lucid translucence, particularly when back lit, that you don’t see in the Jell-O variety. Panna cotta and jelly is sort of a perfect combination–and think of all the fun you could have with it! The most logical would likely be a strawberry-rhubarb jelly and vanilla panna cotta. But then start thinking mango! or currant! or how to somehow use those little pink-fleshed super-sour crabapples…
After adding the panna cotta on top of the diagonally set jelly (it reminded me of making salt-gradient agar plates for bacterial cultures…) and allowing the panna cotta to fully set, the jelly did settle a bit flatter. To better preserve the shape of the jelly, I think it might help to have a shallower panna cotta layer or to cool the mixture even more before pouring it over top. However, I had no problem retaining a clear jelly-panna cotta interface. And while I did like the diagonal jelly in the small yoghurt pots, I also liked the more terrarium-style presentation below as well!
basil panna cotta with rhubarb cardamom jelly
Makes 6-8 jellies, depending on their size.
~8 stalks rhubarb
2-4 tbsp sugar (to taste)
8 pods cardamom
1 1/2 tsp gelatin
2 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp boiling water
basil panna cotta
Adapted from previous adaptation.
1 c milk
3/4 c cream
1/4 c 10% m.f. Greek-style yoghurt
3 sprigs basil
5 tsp sugar
1-cm length of vanilla bean
2 tsp gelatin (2/3 package)
2 tbsp cold water
For the jelly, chop the rhubarb into pieces and place into a saucepan with the sugar and cardamom pods. Heat over medium heat, giving the occasional stir–soon the liquid will start to come out of the rhubarb. Continue to cook at a gentle simmer until all the rhubarb is softened–you can put the lid on if it looks as though the liquid is evaporating too quickly.
Put a jelly bag or a couple layers of cheesecloth into a strainer and pour in the rhubarb. Let the liquid strain out into a bowl, you can give it a good squeeze at the end to extract everything. You want at least 3/4 c. Skim off any foam.
Place the gelatin in a bowl with 2 tbsp cold water to bloom. Add 2 tbsp boiling water on top and stir to dissolve. Add the rhubarb liquid and mix.
Distribute the jelly between glasses or other small containers. For an angled jelly, you can put the glasses in a load pan with something to prop up one edge, like a rolled up cloth. Let set fully in the fridge.
For the panna cotta, warm up the milk and cream together in a saucepan. Add the basil sprigs and the bit of vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds. Let steep around 15 minutes, then strain and let cool to lukewarm before mixing in the yoghurt.
Bloom the gelatin in the 2 tbsp of cold water, then microwave for short intervals until the gelatin is melted. Add the milk/cream mixture and then pour on top of the set jellies. Let set completely in the fridge. While covering in plastic wrap can help prevent a skin, I’ve found that I prefer the skin to the sort of mottled top from drops of condensation that drip from the plastic wrap – particularly when the panna cottas are not being unmolded, but being presented with the top surface exposed.