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Lavender & Marscapone Panna Cotta with Strawberry Caviar, Chocolate Arancini, and Pistachio Creme Anglaise

Ciao Fiore Restaurant
Un Ristorante Alfresco Virtuale

Ciao Fiore! An enchanting outdoor virtual ristorante on the Mediterranean Coast featuring alfresco dining in an ambrosial flower garden opens its virtual doors on Thursday, May 31st.

Chef Norma from Platanos, Mangoes & Me! will prepare the first course,  Lori Lynn from Taste With The Eyes will prepare the second course, and I have the honor of preparing dessert for our  virtual Italian cucina.

I have had the pleasure of working with Norma and Lori Lynn (I couldn’t have asked for better teammates!)over the last few months on this restaurant wars challenge. We are all members of the 5 Star Makeover Cooking Group, and this month, instead of posting an individual dish, our challenge was to to create our own virtual restaurants, complete with theme, dining style, and cuisine.  Our team created Ciao Fiore!, and Italian restaurant, featuring alfresco dining and edible flowers to enhance the garden theme.

Today I will share the dessert component of our 3-course meal that will appear on the menu at Ciao Fiore! 

It didn’t take me long to think of the flavors I love: chocolate, pistachio, strawberry; I just needed to figure out how I wanted to get those flavors into an Italian dessert with edible flowers!  I decided to draw from my own experience : when I go out to dinner, I like to have a sampling of desserts to share. It’s hard for me to narrow it down to just one, so at my table, there are usually a few desserts with extra spoons so we all get to enjoy a taste and vote for our favorite. I kind of took that approach with my dessert for Ciao Fiore! and came up with this…

                                                                                                    Lavender & Marscapone Panna Cotta with Strawberry Caviar

Adding just a bit of lavender to the creamy panna cotta was just right; the essence was there, but not overpowering. The strawberry caviar gave me the opportunity to experiment with molecular cooking. I broke out some sodium alginate and calcium chloride and transformed my  strawberry sauce into tiny micro pearls that burst in your mouth.


                                                                                         Chocolate Arancini with Pistachio Creme Anglaise

I love making the savory version of arancini, filling the little risotto balls with things like prosciutto, peas, and Parmesean cheese. They are fantastically crisp on the outside, and warm and soft on the inside. I thought a sweet rendition of this dish would work really well on my plated dessert, and it turns out I was right! I added a bit of frozen chocolate ganache to the center of each risotto ball before rolling in bread crumbs and frying. Once out of the oil, the arancini were rolled in a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar. The now warm chocolate center spilled out like lava with the first bite. They were pretty amazing.

The Pistachio Creme Anglaise gave the plate the nutty warmth it needed to bring the dessert elements together. I thought it was really nice with a spoonful of the panna cotta, and equally enjoyable when I dipped some of the chocolate arancini into it; and well, pretty darn tasty all by itself too.

If you are anything like me, you may wish to order a capppuccino to sip alongside your dessert course. The garden setting at Ciao Fiore! is tranquil, and you will want to savor all that the Mediterranean coast has to offer.

 Please be sure to stop back on Thursday, May 31st when the virtual doors of Ciao Fiore! open to reveal our complete menu. Norma from  Platanos, Mangoes & Me! will share  her first course, and Lori Lynn from Taste With The Eyes will prepare the second course. We will share the complete menu on each of our blogs on Thursday as well. Until then, Ciao!

The Recipes:

Chocolate Arancini

4 cups water

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Kosher salt

4 cups skim milk

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped

2 cinnamon sticks

2 1/2 cups Arborio rice

Chocolate Ganache balls(recipe follows)

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs

8 cups vegetable oil

For ganache:

1/4 cup and 1 teaspoon heavy cream

1/4 cup and 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1-1/3 cups and 1 tablespoon Ghirardelli 60% Cacao

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the chocolate chips. Stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and pour into a shallow bowl.

Cool, cover, and refrigerate the mixture until firm, at least 2 hours.Using a small spoon, roll the mixture into 1/2-inch balls. Place in freezer until ready to use.

In a medium saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups water and butter to a boil; season with a pinch of salt. In a separate medium saucepan, heat the milk, 1 1/2 cups sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, cinnamon sticks over medium-low heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the rice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has absorbed into the rice, about 15 minutes. Strain the milk mixture into the rice; cook, stirring often, until the rice is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Spread the cooked rice on a large rimmed baking sheet to cool; refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Form the cool rice into 1-inch balls; insert a portion of the frozen ganache into each ball. Repeat with remaining rice and ganache balls.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water until smooth (should be the consistency of buttermilk). Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Dip each rice ball into the batter, shaking off the excess; roll in the breadcrumbs. Repeat with the remaining rice balls.

In a Dutch oven or other large pot, heat the oil to 350 degrees F. Use a slotted spoon to lower the rice balls into the hot oil in batches of 2 to 4 arancini (being careful not to crowd the pan). Fry the arancini, turning occasionally, until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Place arancini on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with 1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Roll warm arancini in  sugar mixture.

Makes 18 arancini.


Lavender & Marscapone Panna Cotta

1 tablespoon milk

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 1/4 cups whipping cream

1/3 cup milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup marscapone cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoons fresh lavender flowers

4 (4-6 ounce) ramekins, sprayed with cooking spray

 In a small bowl, pour 1 tablespoon milk. Sprinkle gelatin over and allow it to soften (10 minutes).Meanwhile, combine cream, 1/3 cup milk, vanilla, and 1/4 cup sugar in a saucepan.Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring often.Remove from heat, add gelatin mixture and stir until melted. Let the mixture cool slightly down to a warm temperature.In a medium sized bowl, whisk together mascarpone cheese and sour cream until smooth. Slowly add the now warm cream mixture into the bowl, whisking constantly. Add lavender flowers and stir to combine. Pour mixture into prepared ramekins.
4 servings
Pistachio Creme Anglaise
1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (4 ounces)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the shelled pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Let cool completely, then rub the pistachios in a kitchen towel to remove the skins. Transfer the pistachios to a food processor and grind to a fine powder.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk with the pistachios and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
Strain the pistachio milk through a fine sieve into another medium saucepan. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the egg yolks and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the custard sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Do not let the custard boil.
Strain the sauce through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in the almond extract and let cool, stirring often. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 2 cups
Strawberry Caviar

9 ounces strawberry juice (combine 1 1/2 cups hulled strawberries with 3/4 cup water; blend until smooth)
1 gram sodium alginate
1 teaspoon sugar
18 ounces cold water
3 grams calcium chloride

Add half of the strawberry juice into a medium bowl. Whisk in the sodium alginate until completely dissolved or use an immersion blender to make this process easier. The sodium alginate will clump up and it will take a while for it to fully disolve. When dissolved, add the remaining juice and the sugar. Whisk the mixture to incorporate. The mixture should be thick and a bit gloopy. Strain the mixture through a mesh seive into a empty bowl and allow it to rest to get rid of the air bubbles.

Add the 18 ounces of water into a large bowl and stir in the calcium chloride until dissolved.

Pour the strawberry mixture into a plastic needle nose bottle or a food grade syringe.

Drop the mixture, one little droplet at a time, into the calcium chloride bath. Spheres should form immediately and rest at the bottom of the bowl.

Make as many spheres as you want and then let them sit for a minute in the bath. Meanwhile, add about a cup of clean water into another medium bowl. Scoop out the spheres and put them in the new bowl of water to “rinse” them off for a minute.

Strain spheres into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use — but they’ll only keep for about a day.