The first time I ever had passionfruit was at an Argentine ice cream chain called Freddo. It was my first week with my host family and my host mom Josefina took me and my host brother out for helado as a treat. She suggested I order the maracuyá and since the menu of 40+ flavors was completely overwhelming, littered words I couldn’t hope to decipher before I had to place my order, I followed her lead. I had absolutely no idea what I’d ordered, but one bite and I was hooked.
Over the next year, I invested a decent amount of time testing helado de maracuyá at heladerias all over the city of Buenos Aires, while Jordan sought out the best dulce de leche granizado alongside me. After a year of diligent taste testing, Freddo, the place where I had that first fateful scoop of maracuyá, ended up on top, but we’re more than willing to continue the experiment if anyone wants to sponsor a trip.
The flavor of passionfuit is heavenly. It’s in a league of it’s own—tropical, tart, sweet and totally mesmerizing. It’s not a flavor that you come across often here in the continental US, but it’s incredibly popular in Argentina and Brazil. Everything from ice cream to cakes, mousse to cocktails gets a welcome injection of tropical paradise. I decided to take a page out of that playbook for this dessert. The combination of milky custard with sweet-tart passionfruit is phenomenal. Panna cotta is really the perfect canvas. Desserts with gelatin are somewhat scary since you don’t know if they’ve worked and set until hours later, but the texture of this panna cotta is divine and it comes together without a hitch.
Panna Cotta with Passionfruit Syrup, adapted from the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
1 1/4 oz package unflavored gelatin
1-inch piece of vanilla bean
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 lemon, zested
Put three tablespoons of cold water in a medium bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Set aside to soften. Lightly brush 8 ramekins with vegetable oil.
Slice the piece of vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add to a saucepan with the milk, cream, sugar and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to about 130 F, about the temperature of hot water from the tap. Pour about 1/2 of the hot cream mixture over the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Pour back into the cream mixture and stir well. Strain through a mesh strainer into a bowl.
Fill the ramekins and let chill for four hours or overnight. To remove from the ramekin, run a knife around the edges and turn upside down onto a plate. You can also dip the ramekins in hot water to loosen the panna cotta from the mold. Serve with several spoonfuls of passionfruit syrup over the top, or substitute passionfruit for grapefruit supremes, strawberries or peaches.
For the passionfruit syrup
1-8oz package of frozen passionfruit puree*
1/2 cup sugar
Put the passionfruit puree in a saucepan and warm to liquify. Once liquified, stir in the sugar and warm just to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a glass jar and store in the fridge. Use on panna cotta, yogurt, ice cream, or add to smoothies or sparkling water. It will keep 2 weeks in the fridge, but trust me, it won’t last that long.
*We get our passionfruit puree at Evergreen Market, a market specializing in South American foods in the Mission. Check in the freezer section of your favorite Latin market for pulpa de fruta maracuyá. Good chances are you can secure some and change your life forever.