Recently I have tasted lots of savoury Italian dishes and now crave something silky, creamy and sweet. Keeping the theme Italian, decided to make panna cotta, flavouring the cooked cream with orange zest and Amaretto, a delicious sweet almond-flavored Italian liqueur. As fresh berries pair well with panna cotta, went for a blueberry compote.
Why have I been tasting lots of Italian dishes? For the second year running, Bahrain’s Cucina Italiana restaurant are hosting a Master Chef Competition for amateur cooks. As a guest judge I attended a few rounds of the competition, alongside Peter Lyons (GM of Bahrain Family Leisure Company), Chef Yousef Iqleim from Bahrain TV and another guest judge, the lovely Georgina from Blondie In Bahrain. Thirty six contestants putting their cooking skills to the test and battling it out in Cucina Italiana’s kitchen. Six heats, two semifinals and only four contestants going forward to the finals, next Tuesday 9th of December.
During the heats, contestants had to create an Italian dish of their choice that incorporated Italian ingredients and flavors and execute and plate the dish within a 45 minute time frame. Which they all nailed like true professionals. Each contestant was then judged on presentation, taste, authenticity and creative use of ingredients. During the semi-finals the heat was turned up a notch and each contestant had to replicate a pasta dish created by the restaurants executive chef… talk about pressure! You can see from some of the photographs above and below, contestants taking notes, checking the ingredients and tasting the dish.
It wasn’t easy being a judge, especially when you know the dish presented for critiquing will not meet the expectations or the criteria the dish is judged on. On the other side of the coin, I am very sure it’s not easy being a contestant, putting your cooking skills to the test under pressure and knowing you gave it your best. Then, having to stand in front of a panel of judges and listen to their comments and observations, dashing any hopes of going through to the next round. Hope we weren’t too harsh 🙂 I applaud the contestants for their enthusiasm and sense of fun (although, at times there were some serious faces in the kitchen), in my eyes you are all winners for taking part and being a good sport. And thank you Cucunia Italiana for letting me be part of Master Chef Season 2, a fun and lively cooking event.
For a different variation on this dessert (and they are many), replace the Amaretto with Grand Marnier (orange flavored liqueur) and use raspberries instead of blueberries. If using a mold for the dessert seems a little daunting, pour the cooked cream (after cooling) into individual glass dishes or shot glasses. Once the panna cotta has set, spoon a little blueberry compote on top and refergriate until needed. For a dinner party, serving a small madeleine or shortbread biscuit with the Panna Cotta would be a nice idea.
Panna Cotta with Orange and Amaretto served with Blueberry Compote
600ml whipping or double cream
zest of one orange
1 rounded teaspoon of gelatin powder
1 tablespoon of cold water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 teaspoons of Amaretto liqueur (or a little more to taste) (optional)
For fruit compote
125g fresh blueberries (set aside some blueberries if using as a garnish)
2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
strips of home-made candied orange peel or shop bought (optional)
You will need: 8 x 75ml molds (I used friand molds, you can also use dariole molds)
How to Cook: Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the orange zest and sugar. Place the saucepan over low heat and stirring occasionally, bring the cream to an almost boil, remove from heat.
Meanwhile, in a small heatproof bowl add the water and sprinkle over the gelatin. Once the gelatin has absorbed the water, place the bowl into a small saucepan of simmering water until the gelatin has fully dissolved. Remove the bowl of gelatin from the saucepan and mix in a tablespoon of the cooked cream. Pour the gelatin mixture into the saucepan of cooked cream and stir together.
Strain the cooked cream into a jug through a fine meshed sieve, discard the orange zest. Stir in amaretto (if using) and vanilla extract. Pour the cooked cream into suitable molds or glasses. When cold, cover and leave to set, preferably overnight.
To make the compote: In another small saucepan, combine blueberries, orange juice and sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar had dissolved and the blueberries have softened slightly, about a minute. Stir in vanilla extract. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
To release the panna cotta, dip the mold into hot water for a few seconds, being careful not to let any water run into the dessert. Wipe any water away from the mold and invert on to a serving plate, you may have to give it a shake to fully release. Decorate the panna cotta with a few fresh blueberries and a small piece of candied orange peel. Place a spoonful of blueberry compote on the side and serve immediately.
Best of luck to the four finalists! Will up-date this post with a photograph of the winner next week. You can see more of the Master Chef Event on their Cucina Italiana Facebook Photo Albums.
Up-date: Congratulation to Kevin for winning Master Chef Season 2. Have a wonderful trip to Italy and enjoy all your new kitchen appliances.