Luscious Layered Panna Cotta, Eye Candy from Chef David Rossi

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Chocolate Panna Cotta layered with raspberry and passion fruit “jellies.”

David Rossi, award-winning executive pastry chef at The Ranch Restaurant in Anaheim, triumphs long before dessert arrives. Served at the start, his puffed-to perfection, piping hot popovers accompanied with house-made jam, show off his skill and attention to detail.

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The dessert finales reaffirm Rossi’s expertise. Some are classics, his versions augmented with unique twists to make them better than traditional renditions. His sticky toffee pudding saddles up with cream cheese ice cream. Crème brulee doesn’t stand alone; it’s teamed with scrumptious seasonal madeleines, shell shaped cake-like cookies, his far more attention-grabbing than most.

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Other offerings showcase sweets that are whimsical yet seriously alluring. His Milky Way Chocolate Bars, and the Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars (with caramelized banana ice cream) are two examples.

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So visually stunning, it is a joyful surprise to taste the irresistible flavors that his painterly presentations present.

One of my favorites is his panna cotta, a light silky egg custard made rich with high-quality cacao-rich dark chocolate. I was thrilled when he consented to show me each step of its preparation.

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Layering it in glasses, he adds colorful stripes of both raspberry and passion fruit “jellies.” Beautiful and luscious, he often prepares these portable wonders for large parties and weddings, adding a topping of crunchy chocolate crumbs for textural constant. Petite raspberry meringue drops crown each dessert, as well as a leaf or two of micro sorrel.

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For me, another reason why I love this panna cotta is because it can be prepared a couple of days in advance and refrigerated. But I admit that for home use, I greatly simplify it.

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At-home simplification!

I use just the chocolate panna cotta and serve it in shot glasses topped with fresh blueberries and blackberries, plus tiny mounds of whipped cream.  But watch the master at work in the video. He is truly a dessert artist.

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Chocolate perfectionist: Rossi spent a week last fall on cacao plantations and dairies in Equator to research chocolate. He sampled the beans right out of the pods, discovering that the very sweet and floral membrane looks much like litchi fruit.

Homework: At home in Huntington Beach he studies and experiments with techniques and flavor profiles.  His dabbling includes pickling, preserving, canning and making bacon.

The Competition: His favorite restaurant (other than The Ranch) is Napa Rose. He worked there prior to The Ranch Restaurant and says that Executive Chef Andrew Sutton taught him myriad skills, including paying close attention to details. He met his wife of eight years, Erika, while working there.

Tipples: IPA style beer is his choice for the moment. Sculpin from Ballast Point Brewing Company in San Diego is a favorite.

David Rossi’s Layered Panna Cotta
Yield: about 8 (12-ounce) glasses
Chocolate Panna Cotta:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
150 grams (about 1 cup) chopped dark chocolate (65 to 73 percent cacao preferred)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 sheets bronze gelatin sheets, see cook’s notes
1/3 cup sour cream
Passion Fruit “Jelly”:
4 sheets bronze gelatin sheets, see cook’s notes
1 cup concentrated passion fruit puree, see cook’s notes
1 cup water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Raspberry “Jelly”:
1 cup raspberry puree, see cook’s notes
1 cup water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 sheets bronze gelatin sheets, see cook’s notes
Optional garnishes: chocolate crumbs (see cook’s notes), tiny raspberry meringue drops, dots of passion fruit puree and micro sorrel leaves
Cook’s notes: Fruit purees and gelatin sheets are sold online and at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa. Chef makes the chocolate crumbles from scratch, but for an easy version  place half of a 9-ounce box of Famous Chocolate Wafers (plain chocolate cookies), about 18, in food processor; process until coarsely ground. Add 2 tablespoons soft butter; pulse until combined. Spread out on rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon of coarse salt. Bake in 350-degree oven until crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool.
1. Prepare panna cotta: In medium saucepan combine milk, cream and sugar; place on medium heat. Stirring frequently, heat until hot to dissolve sugar (mixture needs to be hot enough to melt gelatin and chocolate, but shouldn’t boil). Meanwhile, place gelatin sheets in bowl of cold water.
2. Place chocolate in bowl. Pour hot milk mixture over chocolate and stir with a whisk to melt chocolate. Stir in sour cream. Add drained gelatin and stir until dissolved. Cool.
3. Prepare passion fruit jelly: Place gelatin sheets in cold water; set aside. In a medium-large saucepan, place passion fruit puree, water and sugar. On medium-high heat, stirring frequently, heat until hot (but not boiling). Add drained gelatin sheets; off heat, stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool.
4. Prepare raspberry fruit jelly: Use same procedure as passion fruit jelly, substituting raspberry puree. Set aside to cool.
5. Using 12-ounce clear glasses pour a layer of panna cotta in each glass; chill until firm. Add a layer of passion fruit jelly; chill until firm. Add another layer of panna cotta; chill until firm. Add a layer of raspberry jelly; chill until firm. Add another layer of panna cotta; chill until firm. Chef David Rossi tops each with crunchy chocolate crumbs, tiny raspberry meringue “drops,” tiny dots of passion fruit puree and sorrel microgreens. For an easier at-home approach, top with fresh berries and a little whipped cream.
Source: David Rossi, executive pastry chef, The Ranch Restaurant, Anaheim

Thanks to Curt Norris, videographer and photographer,  for your wonderful work!-

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Blackberries and fresh sweet cherries have such complimentary flavor profiles.

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Bing (bright red to mahogany red) is most common variety in the marketplace, but others such as Rainiers (yellow with a red blush) can be substituted. The easiest and least messy way to remove the seeds is to use a cherry pitter. The gadget works something like a scissor-style paper punch with a shaft that pushes the pit out.

Cherries Poached in Red Wine with Blackberries and Mint
Yield: 8 servings
2 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 cup sugar or agave syrup
2 (2-inches wide) strips of orange zest or tangerine zest, colored portion of peel
1 1/2 pounds fresh sweet cherries, pitted, halved
1/2 pound whole blackberries
Optional: 2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
3/4 cup plain fat free Greek-style yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
Optional garnish: 8 sprigs of fresh mint
1. In a large saucepan (not aluminum) combine wine, sugar and strips of zest. Bring to simmer on medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add cherries and reduce heat to maintain a simmer until cherries are just barely tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. When lukewarm, add blackberries and mint, if using. Gently toss.
2. In small bowl, stir yogurt and honey until combined.
3. Divide cherry-berry mixture into 8 small bowls. Top with dollop of yogurt mixture. If desired, garnish each serving with a small sprig of mint. From “50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas

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