This past spring, I had a salad at Ten01 in Portland, Oregon that rocked my world. It featured micro salad greens, roasted yellow beets, a tangy vinaigrette and a creamy mixture underneath the salad that the kitchen billed as panna cotta. Every time my fork got a bit of that creamy mixture, my palate did a little dance.
I was having lunch with my manager, who happened to be in Portland for the day (something about his daughter’s squash tournament), and we were sharing this dish in the center of the table. Neither of us spoke until every last bite was gone.
Now if you are familiar with the creamy, slightly gelatinized dessert know as panna cotta, let me assure you that the creamy mixture in this salad was not that. It had no perceivable gelatin and it was of course savory rather than sweet.
Coincidentally, that very weekend, I happened upon Jacobs Creamery at the Hillsdale Farmers Market and sampled their all natural, herbed cream cheese. It was spectacular, and I spooned quenelle-shaped lozenges of it on an array of summer salads the entire next week. But then sadly, it was gone, and I was back in Seattle.
Thus began the experimentation to come up with a reasonable facsimile that I could produce on the spur of the moment with ingredients typically hanging out in our frig. As it turns out, natural process cream cheese is not so easy to come by outside of a farmers market. So I began blending Philadelphia brand cream cheese with small amounts of farmers or goat cheese and handfuls of fresh herbs. Because of the emulsifiers used in grocery store cream cheese, a little cream is required to lighten the mixture to just the right ultra-creamy degree.
I have no idea why Ten01 chose to hide the panna cotta under the salad, other than the delightful surprise of it. But, I prefer to show it off in the center of the salad. To get an oval shape, grab 2 teaspoons, plunge one into the panna cotta, extracting about 2 tablespoons of the mixture, and then slide the other spoon under the mixture, repeating with the other spoon, and so forth until an oval form is obtained. It’s far easier to do than it is to describe.
I meant to share this salad with you earlier in the season but time got away from me. Hopefully, you can still find some local fresh strawberries.
Prawn & Strawberry Salad with Fresh Herb Panna Cotta
Get ready for the ohhs and ahhs when you bring this salad to the table. It’s visually stunning and delectable down to the last bite. There is a world of intriguing tastes and textures here, each one complementing the others.
Serving Note In the quantity suggested here, this salad can be an entire simple dinner for four, especially on a warm summer or early fall evening. A loaf of freshly baked bread is the only accompaniment necessary. (But, you will of course have room for dessert.)
Fresh Herb Panna Cotta
1 small handful fresh mint
1 small handful fresh flat leaf parsley
1 small handful fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled
8 ounces cream cheese (preferably local, natural process with no emulsifiers)
2 ounces creamy, fresh goat cheese
1 tablespoon heavy cream
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Honey Lime Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons best quality red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon local honey, warmed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ cup cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
finely grated zest of one lime
1 large clove minced garlic
1 teaspoon coarsely ground fragrant black pepper
fine sea salt
4 cups micro greens, rinsed under cold water and dried in a salad spinner or with paper towels, then torn into bite-size pieces as necessary
1 English cucumber, ends trimmed, sliced lengthwise and then crosswise into ¼-inch half-moons
2 cups local strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced in half lengthwise
20 prawns (20-31 count), about 1 pound, shelled with tails left on, deveined, and sautéed in a little olive oil until just pink
½ red onion, sliced
- Complete the mise-en-place as indicated in the list of ingredients.
- To make Fresh Herb Panna Cotta, in a processor fitted with the steel blade, chop the fresh herbs and garlic.
- Add the cream cheese and goat cheese, and pulse until smooth.
- Add the cream and blend.
- Season to taste with salt, blend, remove to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
- To make Honey Lime Vinaigrette, in a small nonreactive bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey, lime juice, olive oil, lime zest, garlic, and pepper until emulsified. Add salt to taste. Hold momentarily.
- To make the salad, in a large bowl, combine the salad greens, cucumber, strawberries, prawns, and onion.
- Add the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as necessary.
- On each of 4 serving plates, arrange a portion of salad and place an oval scoop of the Fresh Herb Panna Cotta in the center. Grind black pepper over the top.
- Serve immediately.