Garden Diary - August 2018

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Panna Cotta Cooking Demonstration at Wave Hill

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Another month, another visit to Wave Hill. I want to see the high summer gardens. And the panna cotta cooking demonstration. A gray day with some heavy mist. No matter. Here I am. I walk through the front garden, peer into the conservatory, go through the herb garden, then up into the wild garden. The heavy mist is now a tiff-tuff of rain. Across the lawn, pass the big weeping beech tree, cross the roadway and into Wave Hill House. The cooking demonstration will be in Armor Hall (no armor remaining there, alas) so I'll wait there.

image courtesy Wave Hill

Added on to the north end of Wave Hill House by Bashford Dean (simultaneously the Museum of Natural History's Curator of Reptiles and Fishes, and the Metropolitan Museum's Curator of Arms and Armor) it was intended to display his collection of armor. A big room, a nave, with an arched ceiling that makes me think of the inside of the hull of an upside-down Viking vessel.

Wonderful windows at the apse offer a view of the greenery outdoors.

There's a bas relief fireplace that's supposed to depict
the resurrection.

And a dainty Juliet balcony, too small for even a single harpist.
Perhaps a violinist, to serenade a perambulating audience.

Another women comes in and takes a seat. A couple more. Chef Rob Valencia of Great Performances wheels in a cart with a small propane fueled cooking unit, various ingredients

and starts setting up for today's honey yogurt panna cotta cooking demo.


2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
4 gelatin sheets or 4 teaspoons powdered gelatin


If using gelatin sheets, soak in sufficient very cold water to cover. When soft, remove sheets, squeeze dry, and set aside.

If using powdered gelatin, mix with 1/4 cup of water until it thickens.

Heat milk and cream to gentle boil (small bubbles around edge of pan.)
Add gelatin and stir until dissolved. Turn off heat

Add honey and yogurt. Note: Chef Rob says if honey is added at the beginning, before heating, the cream and milk will "break" and curdle when heated.

Pour into molds to set. Chill for one hour.
Garnish with fruit compote just before serving.

Summer peaches are today's fruit compote.

Peel peaches: cut a small X in the bottom of each ripe peach. Briefly dip into boiling water, then into ice water. Peel and slice. Sprinkle with sugar to taste. Macerate for ten minutes. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves and juices thicken. Remove from heat and cool. Add herbs - today the herb was mint, fresh picked from Wave Hill's herb garden.

Chef Rob deftly garnishes each individual panna cotta.

Like summer, in a form we can taste. Beautiful.

Elegantly served panna cotta. "Don't do this at home." advises chef Rob as he holds one of the individual servings in the foil dish directly over the burner's flame. He warms it just enough that it can be inverted into a glass dish. Then garnish with peaches, mint, and two cookies.

The mixed berry cookies are a bonus. Left over from a fresh fruit offering at an event, Great Performances waste not / want not ethic means the berries were brought back to their kitchen and repurposed into these very good little cookies.

Options and Possibilities

Rob uses low fat Greek yogurt to balance the full fat properties of whole milk and heavy cream. However, since the gelatin is doing "the heavy lifting" you could use low fat milk with half-and-half. Just be aware that the panna cotta will likely have a softer set. By the same token, you can eliminate dairy completely, substituting soy milk or one of the nut milks such as almond.

Intensify the herbal notes by infusing the herbs in the milk and cream before adding honey and yogurt. Muddle with a spoon to bruise the herbs before adding them, and strain to remove the herbs before dishing up the panna cotta. Today chef Rob used mint. Tarragon with its licorice flavor is a favorite of his. Lavender is also also good.

Want a coffee panna cotta? Rob's favorite choice is to infuse 2 cups of whole milk overnight with one cup of whole coffee beans, then strain. Check the volume of milk and, if needed, add as much more milk needed to measure 2 cups. The milk will have the desired coffee flavor while keeping its original color. If ground coffee is used the milk will have a tan color. Add a shot of espresso for more emphasis.

I asked what about wintertime panna cotta, when I don't have bags of XX in my freezer. How about raisins macerated with brandy? That will work, said Rob. Or, frozen fruit from the supermarket.

What good timing, first picking peaches and now panna cotta at Wave Hill.

All About Figs, the next culinary event, will take place on Sunday, September 9. A chef from Wave Hill exclusive caterer Great Performances shares samples of seasonal figs and demonstrates figgy recipes for your anticipated backyard bounty. Fruit expert and Senior Horticultural Interpreter Charles Day discusses the best fig varieties for containers and offers tips for cultivating figs, Ficus carica, in urban gardens. An optional walk to the Herb Garden follows, to see Wave Hill's fig trees in situ. Free with admission to the grounds.

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