I have been enjoying Kaori Endo‘s food for years, from when she was cooking at Rose Bakery, to her charming book Une Japonaise à Paris (accessible, family-style Japanese cooking) and then to the opening of her wildly successful restaurant Nanashi*.
There she serves a short selection of dishes of Japanese inspiration, with three different bento-style meals — one with meat, one with fish, one vegetarian — that each feature a mix of whole grains, and three seasonal(ish) vegetable preparations combining the raw and the cooked.
It is all fresh and tasty and healthful — you can view pictures on their Facebook page — and it usually leaves a little bit of room for dessert, and that a good thing because you don’t want to pass up Kaori Endo’s delicate creations.
So when I received her freshly released book Les Bento de Nanashi, I was of course interested to read about her kakuni pork, her ponzu dressing, and her fried tofu with nori sauce, but I was also very happy to reach the dessert chapter and see that she had included a recipe for the restaurant’s black sesame panna cotta, which she credits to pastry cook Megumi Takehana.
You see, I had an open jar of black sesame paste in my fridge for which I’d been trying to find cool uses — including a delicious ice cream and a psyllium mochi I’ll write about sometime — and I knew this would be just the thing to showcase the uniquely irresistible, nutty notes of black sesame.
Besides, I was long overdue for a fresh batch of panna cotta (blast from the past: this strawberry panna cotta) after tiring of it when it became ubiquitous on restaurant menus ten years ago.
A few thoughts on this outstanding recipe:
- The book recommends you make a muscovado syrup to serve with the panna cotta. I admit I wasn’t sure there was a point, but the complex and sap-like notes turn out to be the perfect complement to the black sesame flavor. You’ll have lots of syrup leftover, but it will keep forever in the fridge and you can put it to awesome use on plain yogurt or drizzled over a strawberry salad.
- Once the panna cotta mixture is ready, the recipe has you cool it over an ice bath until slightly thickened. Although it doesn’t explain why — French cookbooks are notoriously laconic about those things — I suspect this allows the black sesame to remain suspended in the mixture, otherwise the sesame paste would separate and fall to the bottom. I am making a note of this technique, as it should also solve the maddening issue of vanilla seeds sinking to the bottom when you flavor rice pudding or tapioca pudding with real vanilla beans.
- Look for roasted black sesame paste at natural foods stores and Japanese markets (kuro neri goma). Jean Hervé makes a fine one that is distributed at most organic stores in France. If you can’t find it, you can try the recipe with another, boldly flavored nut or seed butter, or you can grind your own toasted black sesame seeds using a high-speed blender.
- I had leftover crème fraîche that needed using so I substituted it for about one third of the whipping cream. We loved the refreshing tang that brought, so I’ll consider it again next time. Yogurt would be lovely too.
Join the conversation!
Have you ever cooked with black sesame paste, and what are your favorite uses for it? And do you like to make panna cotta, or did you tire of it when it was all anyone would serve?