Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Effin Rabbits and Reproducing Sorrel

wild-sorrel.jpgWild sorrel spreading like...wild sorrel

It's almost August, and I find it hard to believe how quickly the summer is passing. By now, there have been some resounding successes in the garden. The radishes bubbled up out of the ground like Champagne fizz; the zucchini continues to reproduce like rabbits.

But there have been some utter failures, too.

The rabbits have also been reproducing like rabbits. Every time I walk into the beet and Swiss chard patch, two of them scamper out through the fence. Now that no beets are left, I thought they'd have moved on to the lettuce. For obvious reasons, it is my great hope to bring you a rabbit recipe in the coming weeks.

Luckily, there's one section of the garden that the rabbits steer clear of: the herbs. None of them munch on the rosemary; it's the size of a small bush by now. There's a basil plant that thinks it's an oak tree. The sage and thyme have tripled in size since I placed them, toddler-size, in the ground.

Many of my herbs are grown from the same plants year to year, even though it gets too cold in the winter for them to stay in the ground. Each fall, I dig them up, cut them into smaller versions of themselves, and replant them in an indoor window box; they live there until the following spring, when I move them back to the garden to spread their roots.

And I use herbs a lot in my cooking. I blend them with salad greens, I call on them to accent sauces, I use them to flavor just about everything. This is where I could give you a recipe for pesto using, like, four different kinds of basil. Or for a Martini infused with rosemary and thyme. But you've already seen something like that, I'm sure. Instead, let's talk about sorrel. No one knows what to do with sorrel, and it has been creeping its way into American food one farmers' market at a time.

I planted sorrel once, years ago, and have never had to since. By now, it has moved beyond the garden fence and into the yard. When the grass is mowed, the air is filled with a fresh, citrusy scent. The herb has a subtle lemony flavor, and because it's a green, it often shows up in salads. But I like to use it the way you might use citrus fruit in a bright dessert.

There's just enough gelatin in these panna cottas to hold their shape; the result is a creamy, lemony-herbal pudding that just melts away when you eat it. I serve the panna cottas topped with berries or lightly sweetened whipped cream.


Sorrel-Buttermilk Panna Cottas
8 servings

Vegetable oil (for ramekins)
2 1/4 tsp. unflavored gelatin
6 cups sorrel
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt

Lightly oil eight 3- to 4-oz. ramekins.

Sprinkle gelatin over 2 Tbsp. cold water in a small bowl and let stand 1 minute to soften.

Puree sorrel and buttermilk in a blender until very smooth, about 1 minute. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl, pressing on solids. Discard the solids.

Heat cream, sugar, and a pinch of kosher salt in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add gelatin mixture; stir until it dissolves. Pour cream mixture into buttermilk mixture, stir to combine, and divide equally among ramekins. Let cool completely, then cover ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate the panna cottas until they are set, at least 4 hours. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

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