Panna Cotta is boring. Gingered versions show up on “fusion” restaurant menus all over town, and just about every Food Network star (insert desired perkiness, accent, girth or cleavage here) has demonstrated just how easy the Italian “cooked cream” is to make. But, this silky, gelled dessert happens to be the perfect foil for seasonal fruit, especially when it is prepared without too much gelatin, is sweetened with just the right amount of sugar and honey, and is infused with fragrant vanilla bean.

Blood oranges are at the peak of our local season, and in this cooks backyard they are small, plentiful and a tad sour. Blood Oranges don't lend themselves well to being eaten out of hand a la navels, as their tender, cabernet-tinged flesh is messy juicy. They're not great for juicing as they tend too tart. Blood oranges do however make a righteous compote–one that's really good served over ice cream, cheesecake, sweetened crème fraiche, and yes, even our dully-delicious friend, panna cotta.

It's popular to set panna cotta in small custard cups and serve it unmolded, but that's so fussy. Chill the cream in glasses or small dishes and serve it with topped with the compote or another seasonal fruit. (Strawberries in spring, juicy plums in summer, persimmons or figs in the fall.) Also, resist the trend of making panna cotta over-the-top rich with too much heavy cream, crème fraiche and/or sour cream as the result can be cloying. A blend of cream and buttermilk strikes a perfect balance of tangy and smooth that, when paired with the compote, makes for one exciting dessert.

blood oranges; Credit: Jeanne Kelley

blood oranges; Credit: Jeanne Kelley

Buttermilk Panna Cotta With Blood Orange Compote

From: Jeanne Kelley

Note: Chill the panna cotta in four or six glasses, depending on your appetite.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon water

¾ cup whipping cream

½ vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

2 ½ tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1 ¼ cups chilled buttermilk

Blood Orange Compote (see recipe below)

1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl. Let the gelatin stand until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Stir the cream, vanilla bean, sugar and honey in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until the mixture just comes to a simmer. Remove the saucepan from over the heat and add the gelatin mixture. Stir until the gelatin dissolves. Using a small sharp knife, scrape the small black seeds from the vanilla bean pod into the cream and remove the pod. Add the buttermilk and stir to combine.

3. Divide the cream among 4 to 6 glasses or pour into a pint-sized bowl. Chill the cream until set, about 4 hours. (Panna cotta can be prepared 5 days ahead. Cover the glasses or dishes after the cream is set with plastic wrap and keep it refrigerated.)

more blood oranges; Credit: Jeanne Kelley

more blood oranges; Credit: Jeanne Kelley

Blood Orange Compote:

Note: The compote can be made with Valencia oranges–just cut back on the sugar and/or honey according to your taste. Cortas, a Lebanese brand, makes very good orange blossom water. Look for it at Middle Eastern markets such as Vartans Family Groceries in Pasadena.

Makes: About 4 cups.

2 ½ to 2 ¾ pounds blood oranges (about 12 small oranges)

2- 3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ teaspoon orange blossom water

1. Using a small serrated knife, cut off all the peel and pith from the oranges. Slice the oranges into rounds and transfer them to a medium bowl. (You should have about 4 cups.)

2. Drizzle 2 tablespoons honey over the oranges and sprinkle with the sugar and blossom water. Let the oranges stand until they are juicy, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the remaining honey to sweeten to taste. (The compote can be prepared one day ahead if covered and refrigerated.)

Jeanne Kelley is a Los Angeles cook and cookbook author, who also writes at Jeanne Kelley Kitchen. Or follow her on her Tumblr.

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