The Panna Cotta That Was

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hye Rae came back from her husband’s parents’ house after Chuseok a few weeks ago with a homegrown pumpkin the size of a beach ball. She sent me a picture of the beauty and a text that said she wanted to share it. I realize this is not the kind of message that would excite the average person, but I’m nothing if not easily provoked by edible surprises. Also, Hye Rae’s brand of generosity never fails to shake me back to center. The last time she and I got together to cook, which we try to do once a month these days, she taught me how to make jangjorim, a side dish of beef that you cover with water and soy sauce and cook down with garlic until both are hopelessly tender. She requested a winter cocktail, so I taught her how to make hot buttered rums with extra nutmeg, cinnamon and ground cloves. That’s what we do: she teaches me, I teach her. It’s become the sort of tradition you never want to lose.

Right before it was time to call it a night, Hye Rae disappeared to the front of her apartment and emerged back in the kitchen with her mother-in-law’s pumpkin. She split it in two with a carving knife, and we sat on the floor and scooped out the seedy guts so that I could take them home. She planned to make hobak juk, or pumpkin porridge that goes down like liquid silk. I wasn’t sure how to use my half, save for the seeds.

pumpkin seeds

If there’s a simpler way to do justice to pumpkin seeds than to heat them til crisp, shower them with salt and eat them straight out of the oven, of that I’m not aware. They’re pretty delicious with a sweet savory kick, too, and are meant to be scooped with your fingers. Which you’ll probably want to lick after each bite.

Roasted and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 or 2 teaspoons of olive oil

Rinse pumpkin seeds completely first, ridding them of all pumpkin guts. Rub them between a clean kitchen towel–you want them to be totally dry. Lay seeds flat on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil (seeds should be evenly coated, but not saturated in oil). Roast for 5-7 minutes at 325 degrees F. Meanwhile, mix all dry seasonings together in a bowl. Take seeds out of the oven and sprinkle with seasoning, then mix around the pan to coat evenly. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes of roasting. The tricky part about pumpkin seeds is that they cook super quickly from the inside out. It’s best to stick close to the oven and check a few seeds by splitting them open after the first 10 minutes or so of roasting. If they are brown inside, they’ve burned. Look for an inner golden color and a crisp, bitable shell. These are best eaten while fresh and hot.


I’ve thought a lot about panna cotta since the first incident, and about what kind of flavors would be redemptive to the panna cotta that wasn’t. Other than a splinter from the stem of an eggplant, there are no serious kitchen injuries to report at this time. If you’re sitting there wondering how the hell someone could get a splinter from a vegetable, you wouldn’t be the only one. And if I’ve just completely jinxed myself, you’ll be the first to know.

While this panna cotta was good, it wasn’t something I’d serve the president, if you catch my drift. Sometimes I do that–imagine that I’m cooking for President and Michelle Obama. They’ll call me up on short notice and invite themselves to dinner, and then they’ll arrive all debonair and settle themselves in my humble little apartment and eat exactly what I’ve planned to cook that night anyway, even if it’s grilled cheese sandwiches. The thought both terrifies and exhilarates me, and eventually calms me when I realize it’s just a very fantastic reverie. Like, if I’m having a few friends over and I’m nervous about a new recipe, I’ll say to myself, “Well, why? S’not like it’s Obama and Michelle.” And then I relax a little.

I didn’t puree the pumpkin well enough, but I bet if I had, I would have liked the panna cotta better. So if you try this, puree until your blender begs for mercy. Make extra whipped cream. You can use it the next morning in your coffee.

pumpkin panna cotta pie

Pumpkin Panna Cotta (adapted mostly from Say Yes to Hoboken)

1 cup pureed pumpkin (make by hollowing out a pumpkin and cutting into wedges, then roasting at 350 degrees F until tender all the way through, about 40 minutes)
1 or 2 sheets of gelatin*
1 1/2 cup milk, divided
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

*I used two sheets of gelatin, and it made for a stiffer panna cotta than I like. Depending on how you plan to serve this, two sheets might be necessary to give the panna cotta enough strength to stand unmolded. I would try just one sheet next time if serving it straight from the glasses. The most helpful information I’ve found online about using gelatin was written by David Lebovitz, though I’m still not sure what the correct conversion is between powdered and sheet gelatin since the sheets I used were smaller than what he writes about. My advice: go with powdered gelatin if you aren’t sure either. I’ve written directions for both forms in step 1.

1) If using powdered gelatin: In a bowl, mix gelatin with 1/4 cup milk. Whisk until gelatin is dissolved and then let sit.
If using sheet gelatin: In a bowl, immerse one sheet of gelatin with 1 cup of cold water. If using two sheets, use two cups of water. Wait five minutes for the gelatin to bloom, then squeeze out the excess water and mix the gelatin with 1/2 cup warm milk. Let sit.
2) In a blender, add the sugar, pumpkin puree, heavy cream, remaining 1 cup of milk, spices, and vanilla. Blend until smooth.
3) Pour the blended pumpkin/cream mix into a medium pot over medium heat.
4) Simmer for five minutes, then add the gelatin/milk mix to the pot. Turn heat to low. Whisk until blended, about two minutes, then remove from heat and let cool a bit.
5) Pour warm mixture into glasses or ramekins if you want to serve plainly on a plate. Make sure to lightly oil your ramekins first so that the panna cotta will slip from them easily.
6) Chill for six hours, or overnight. Top with whipped cream and crumbled grahams, if you like.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
Whisk one cup of heavy cream in a big bowl until soft peaks form. Mix in sugar to taste, and cinnamon by the teaspoonful, adding more for a headier flavor. Chill.

pumpkin panna cotta




  • Ryan Churchill

    Hey Jacqui love the bit about cooking for the president gave me a good lil chuckle! Great writing and great recipes keep it up young grasshopper! Hope all is good in Korea

  • Nikoline

    Love the double recipe post!
    I need to get myself some pumpkins now. Wish you were around to carve one with me!