Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Lemon Panna Cotta for Cook the Books June/July Pick: "Garlic and Sapphires" by Ruth Reichl

I'm sneaking in right under the wire as usual for this round of Cook the Books, our virtual foodie book club. Our host for this round is my fellow Hawaii food blogger, Claudia of Honey From Rock and she picked a classic, Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.

I read and enjoyed this book several years ago, but couldn't find it on my shelves so I checked the audio book out from the library. I really enjoyed the narrator (Bernadette Dunne) who sounds enough like Reichl that it felt like she was reading her own story. It was fun to listen to Ruth's stories and while I love all of her books, this one makes me laugh the most, as in 1993, Reichl moves from Los Angeles where she is the the LA Times restaurant critic to New York to take on the same role at the New York Times. Although the book has its poignant moments, her disguises (donned in order to get a more real experience, like the majority of her readers would have in the bastions of New York's restaurant scene) are for the most part really funny with her creating characters or even taking on the personality of her late mother. Reichl's food writing--whether her books, her blog, her work at the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine (Sniff...sniff... has it really been almost a decade since it folded?! So sad...), never fails to make me hungry and happy. The descriptive passages in Garlic and Sapphires make me feel like I am hanging out with her, exploring the nineties New York restaurant scene. A very happy revisit (Mahalo, Claudia!) to a foodie favorite book and author.

There are of course, countless mentions of delicious food in the book and frankly, I stopped writing it down unless it was something I wanted to make. I was fairly set on making a version of the Curried Tuna Tartar from Reichl's review of Le Cirque because I loved her honesty and humor in reporting her very different experiences in and out of disguise there, and I dearly love raw tuna, but ahi tuna wasn't looking particularly good at my local store this week, and I only splurge on it when it looks its best and didn't want to drive into town for better tuna options. Risotto--lobster or asparagus, simple soba noodles, and a veg-friendly version of her "Sort-Of Thai Noodles" were other contenders for my book-inspired dish, but I am trying to avoid pasta and rice right now. I did just lose 11.5 pounds (yay!) and sweets have also been off the table for the past several weeks to do so. I decided to pick a recipe I had tagged to make in her My Kitchen Year cookbook and splurge a bit to celebrate with a half-recipe (I said celebration splurge, not slide back!) ;-) of her three-ingredient Lemon Panna Cotta for my dish. It's not specifically inspired by Garlic and Sapphires, but I like how Ruth appreciates simple dishes that are executed well, like this one.

You can have your cakes, pies, and other more complicated desserts of you give me something lemon and pudding-like. I have several panna cottas, mousses, syllabubs, pots de creme, and other like dishes on this blog--many of them lemon, and one Nigel Slater's Lemon Posset recipe, shares Ruth's three-ingredients of whipping cream, lemons, and sugar, but in different proportions, so I thought it would be fun to give it a try. 

Lemon Panna Cotta
From My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
(Serves 6)

2 pints Whipping cream
3 lemons
1/2 cup white sugar
whip cream and mint for garnish, optional

Grate the zest from the lemons, being careful not include any of the bitter white pith. Squeeze the lemons, add the juice to the zest, and set aside. 

Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed pot, stir in the sugar, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and scrapping the spoon across the bottom of the pot, for about two minutes. Remove from the heat, and still stirring, add the lemon juice and jest. Pour into ramekins or small bowls, cool and leave to set in the refrigerator for at least four hours. 

If you want to gild the lily, garnish with whipped cream and a sprig of mint. 

The half-batch of this recipe nicely filled up four of my small ramekins perfectly!

Notes/Results: I think this may be my favorite of the easy lemon panna cotta/posset recipes I've tried as the proportion of lemon to cream and sugar gives this one a lovely burst of lemon flavor and keeps it on the tangy side. Since you are not using gelatin, the panna cotta is more delicate and I recommend at least 6 to 8 hours chilling before serving. The photos were taken at about four and a half hours and it is still delightful, but does get melty and saucy pretty quickly. Not necessarily a bad thing, just depends on how structured you like your puddings. This is good as-is for a light dessert, but the whipped cream and mint, and even a few berries are not unwelcome here. I will definitely make this panna cotta again. 

Garlic and Sapphires is my seventh foodie book entry for the Foodies Read 2018 event. You can check out the July 2018 Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.   

I'm also sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
The deadline for this round of CTB is TODAY and Claudia will be rounding up the entries on the Cook the Books site soon after. If you missed this round and like food, books, and foodie books, join us for August/September when we'll be reading the novel Sourdough by Robin Sloan, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.


  1. Just gorgeous looking panna cotta! And now you've got me wanting to do a version of that Curried Tuna Tartar. We usually get some good ahi tuna here.

    1. Yes--I am still going to make the tartar. I was just too lazy and time crunched to drive into town and find decent ahi. ;-) The panna cotta was a nice treat though!

  2. Great dish. I love that cookbook. It is written in such a conversational style that I thought I was talking with Ruth. I am intrigued about the audio book. I would love to listen to it even though I've read the book twice now. Love dish, Deb! (Kudos to you on the 11.5 lbs. I think I found what you lost!)

    1. Yes, the cookbook has a great conversational tone. Such good amd mostly simple recipes too. ;-) The audio book is definitely worth a listen.

  3. Beautiful dessert! This one is on my list too - although I'm also trying to avoid sweets for the next little while, so it will have to wait. But not for long!

  4. Your photo makes me really want to eat one of those little desserts right now. Beautiful! Very much in keeping with the spirit of the book, which I quite enjoyed when it was newer.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  5. Congratulations on the 11.5 lbs. Deb. That is a great accomplishment and this panna cotta sounds like the perfect way to celebrate.

  6. I keep meaning to reread Reichl's memoirs -- and I was also thinking audio. Glad this one was good. You know I'm right with you on the love of lemon desserts. Perfect for summer!

  7. Oh my. I do like lemon dessert and the fact that it is so easy and just 3 ingredients makes this even better.

  8. Now a dessert like lemon panna cotta is just the thing for the hot weather we are having in DE. I can just taste that refreshing cool tart flavor! I liked this book, having read several of others she's written. It was a breezy read

  9. Congratulations on your progress! I like that this recipe has no gelatin. I love the blue fabric and spoons you used for your photos: they go so well with the blueberries and perfectly offset the color of panna cotta. Well done!


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