This strawberry panna cotta with balsamic vinegar is an easy but gourmet spring dessert. With dairy-free and paleo-friendly options, more people can enjoy it!
Are you thrown off by the idea of vinegar in a dessert? Don’t go away yet–let me explain. First of all, you won’t actually taste the balsamic vinegar in this strawberry panna cotta unless you decide to drizzle extra on top to serve. Second, balsamic pairs really well with strawberries, enhancing their flavor and sweetness without asserting its own taste in any noticeable way.
Years ago when I was living in Houston, I threw one of my first dinner parties. I think everything I made that night was from the first cookbook I ever bought myself, Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. A friend of a friend brought vanilla ice cream for dessert, along with a bottle of chocolate balsamic vinegar. He explained that he’d been to a vinegar tasting, and had learned about how balsamic can enhance desserts. Although skeptical, I drizzled a bit of the heady syrup onto my ice cream, and was totally blown away. The tang of the vinegar made all the other flavors in the dessert pop in the best possible way. I was sold.
A few years after that, when my blog was still a baby, I shared a paleo and vegan strawberry ice cream made with balsamic vinegar. The flavor was amazing, and the recipe was the runner up in Rodelle’s Great American Ice Cream Contest despite being free of dairy and refined sugar. Strawberry and balsamic truly make for an award-winning combination!
The pairing also works incredibly well in this strawberry panna cotta with balsamic vinegar. If you’re not familiar with panna cotta, the name means “cooked cream” in Italian. It’s a dessert that’s similar to a pudding, flan, or pot de creme, but instead of using eggs to make the mixture set, we’re using gelatin. This panna cotta is so simple to make, and basically tastes like the best strawberry ice cream you’ve ever had melted and turned into pudding.
The panna cotta will naturally separate into two distinct layers as it sets, which only makes it prettier. Both layers taste like strawberry, but the top layer is super creamy and the bottom layer is more like a light jelly. A sprinkling of finely chopped fresh strawberries on top completes this panna cotta and makes it an ideal way to celebrate spring’s first strawberries. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, top your panna cotta with the tiniest drizzle of extra balsamic vinegar. You’ll be amazed at how it makes all the other flavors jump out–it’s kind of like the moment a Magic Eye picture shifts into 3D (did anyone else love those books as a kid?).
- 1 pound strawberries
- ⅓ cup raw sugar or coconut sugar
- 2 tablespoons high-quality balsamic vinegar, plus more for serving*
- 2 cups almond milk
- 1 cup heavy cream or coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon gelatin, preferably grass-fed*
- ***Please note: Prep time listed for this recipe is hands-on time, and does not include four hours for the panna cotta to set in the refrigerator.***
- If you plan to unmold your panna cotta, lightly grease six to eight small ramekins or bowls (4-6 ounce capacity) with ghee or coconut oil. If you don’t plan to unmold, you can also use small jars and don’t need to grease them.
- Reserve 4-6 whole strawberries for serving, then hull and chop the remaining strawberries. Mix the chopped strawberries, sugar, and balsamic vinegar in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is surrounded by syrupy red liquid. Use a fork or potato masher to mash the strawberries a bit.
- Add the almond milk, cream, vanilla, and salt to the saucepan. Warm, stirring often, until steam begins to rise from the surface. Sprinkle the gelatin on top, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes.
- Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, then divide between the prepared bowls or jars. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least four hours or up to two days.
- If you’d like to unmold the panna cotta, dip the bottoms of the ramekins into a bowl of very hot water for about 30 seconds, then invert onto a plate. Finely chop the reserved strawberries and spoon them on top. Serve chilled or at room temperature, with extra balsamic for each person to drizzle on if desired.
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