It’s weird. Sometimes I wonder how things get invented.
Some mad scientist long ago decided to boil the hooves of pigs and cows and, a century later, presto, Bill Cosby appears on your tv screen advertising Jello Pops and Jigglers.
At first, this gelatinous stew was used as a primitive glue. How did it get from glue to a favorite dessert of kids and grandmas the world over?
My grandmother loved Jell-O. She ate it every night after dinner. There was always some prepared in her fridge and packaged back-ups in her cupboard.
In my grandmother’s day, Jell-O was considered modern and futuristic. Somehow pieces of fruit, vegetables, and even mayonnaise suspended in a jelly-like substance meant you were real hip. The number of Jell-O molds you owned - a status symbol.
Imagine if just owning a collection of fancy Jell-O molds meant you climbed the socioeconomic ladder.
Still, gelatin seems miraculous. It has no flavor, color, or odor, and it can take on any shape. It’s a clean slate, a blank canvas.
Sometimes, I wish I were like Jell-O. On days when I feel like I can’t hold it together. Days when I’m on the verge of melting into a shapeless puddle on the floor. Days when life seems unstructured and ill-formed.
I wish I could pour myself into the mold of my dreams and, a few hours later, reemerge with enviable bounce-back - sweet and cool and refreshing, too.
I know people who are flavorless and colorless. They might be odorless, too, and that could be good, but man are they a bore. A real yawn, you know?
To be honest, I hate Jell-O.
It's a snooze of a dessert. There is, however, a gelatin-based dessert that I love. Think of it as Jello’s much more glamorous and interesting cousin.
Panna cotta is creamy and velvety, infused with liqueurs, and real, seasonal ingredients. Instead of being slippery and weebly-wobbly, filled with artificial flavors and ingredients that don’t make sense, the gelatin in panna cotta holds its shape and yields the most amazing consistency.
My friend, Johnny, describes its texture like this, “Imagine if crème brûlée and pudding had a baby.”
Now, who could hate that?
Pumpkin Pie Panna Cotta
- 12 4-ounce ramekins
- cooking spray
- fine mesh sieve
- 3 ½ teaspoons powdered gelatin
- 2 TBSP water
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup hazelnut liqueur
- 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- pomegranate seeds
- candied cinnamon walnuts, chopped recipe to follow
- 2 TBSP unsalted butter
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¾ tsp salt
- Lightly spray ramekins with cooking spray and set aside.
- In a small, nonstick pan (with the heat off) pour 2 tablespoons of water. Sprinkle gelatin over water and let bloom for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pot, add cream, milk, sugar, hazelnut liqueur, pumpkin, spices, and vanilla and bring to a gentle boil.
- On low heat, heat the saucepan with water and gelatin until gelatin is completely dissolved. Using a rubber spatula, scrape gelatin into cream mixture. Whisk thoroughly.
- Strain liquid into another container using a fine-mesh sieve and whisk. Pour the strained liquid into prepared ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours.
- Turn out ramekin onto a plate and garnish with chopped candied, cinnamon walnuts, and pomegranate seeds.
To Make Candied Walnuts
- In a medium-sized skillet, add butter, sugar, and walnuts. Sprinkle with cinnamon and salt. Stir occasionally until sugar and butter are melted then pour-out coated walnuts onto a piece of foil or parchment paper.
- Once completely cool, the walnuts can be chopped and stored in an air-tight container.