There were certain foods that I was never really exposed to growing up, foods that even as I grew older still seemed exotic, fancy, and out of reach.
Even after taking culinary courses in college and working in restaurants for years, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really felt comfortable selecting and buying avocados. In restaurants I would enjoy guacamole, but it was never something I was adventurous enough to try making myself. A few years ago something suddenly changed, a paradigm shift if you will, an avocado paradigm, and all at once the avocado started entering my grocery basket just as effortlessly as a loaf of bread or a carton of eggs.
More recently my pomegranate paradigm shifted too. It started with a pomegranate dessert at a bakery in Williamsburg or a salad with pomegranate delivered for lunch at work, and then one day a pomegranate came home with me from the market and I had to figure out how to get the damned seeds out.
My kitchen a mess, with red splatters on the walls and seeds strewn about the counters and floor, I vowed I’d never do that again.
Then I did that again.
Somewhere along the way I learned a trick on how to get the seeds out without having to repaint the kitchen ceiling, et voila, pomegranates were no longer scary and exotic things only to be eaten when other people were doing the work. Suddenly they were accessible and familiar, and while they don’t come home with me as often as avocados, they do find themselves in my grocery bags every so often.
If you don’t already have a good method to get the seeds out, or you’re intimidated by pomegranates the way I used to be, look no further! It’s actually a lot more simple than you might think.
Slice the pomegranate in half – straight through the middle. Hold one half firmly with your hand over a large bowl. With the other hand, use a wooden spoon to give the outside several good firm whacks. It may take a bit to loosen the seeds, but once they loosen up they’ll start falling out into the bowl without losing much of their juice. You’ll need to rotate it to get the seeds out of every part of the fruit, but it’s truly not difficult, messy, or time consuming in the way that other methods can be. Some of the white membranes may get knocked out with the seeds too though, so you’ll need to pick through and remove them.
When I was thinking of something I could make for the hubby for Valentine’s day, it didn’t take me long to decide on a pomegranate flavored panna cotta. I’ve always loved the silky smooth texture and subtle sweetness of panna cotta, and I thought pomegranate would be an ideal flavor to pair with the tangy buttermilk that traditional panna cotta usually contains.
It may seem fancy or fussy, but I promise that making panna cotta is really quite simple. It’s basically like a custard or pudding that’s thickened with gelatin rather than eggs or cornstarch. If you can make jello, you can make panna cotta. The most difficult part of this recipe is reducing the pomegranate syrup, which actually isn’t difficult at all.
This dessert is wonderfully flavorful, beautifully pale pink, and perfectly light and delicate. The pomegranate and orange are the perfect tart and sweet complement to the tangy buttermilk, and the heavy cream ensures a rich creamy flavor and velvety smooth texture. Since I usually like my desserts to be subtly sweetened, I served this with just a touch of reserved pomegranate syrup, but if you prefer sweeter desserts just pour it on thick! The texture of a good panna cotta shouldn’t be jiggly or gelatinous like jello, but silky and almost just barely set. This recipe doesn’t disappoint in that respect. A few fresh pomegranate seeds on top help to add a bright freshness, a nice bit of texture, and a beautiful ruby color.
Pomegranate Panna Cotta
peanut or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons plus 2 cups pomegranate juice
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Peel from 1 orange, removed in strips with vegetable peeler
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
handful of pomegranate seeds for garnish
Lightly oil six 3/4-cup ramekins, custard cups, or silicone molds with a paper towel. Place 3 tablespoons pomegranate juice in small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over it, and let stand for 10 minutes. Heat remaining 2 cups pomegranate juice, sugar, and orange peel in large saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil until syrup is reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 20 minutes or so. I found it helpful to keep a heatproof measuring cup with mesh strainer (to catch the orange peel) next to the stove to check how much the syrup had reduced. Once reduced to 1 1/4 cups, remove orange peel. Reserve 1/3 cup of the syrup as a sauce; cover and refrigerate.
Add gelatin mixture to remaining hot syrup in the pan and stir well until completely dissolved. Whisk in orange juice and whipping cream, then buttermilk. Strain the mixture to remove any lumps or buttermilk solids. Divide among prepared ramekins. Chill until set, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Run knife around edge of ramekins; invert onto plates. If you have trouble getting them out you may need to run the ramekins under warm water for a few seconds. Drizzle with sauce, sprinkle with a few pomegranate seeds, and serve.