A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, FODMAP-Friendly, Coconut-Maple Panna Cotta

Whew. Could that title be any longer? Actually sure—with one simple substitute, this dish can even become vegan.* What's not to love?

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, FODMAP-Friendly, Coconut-Maple Panna Cotta
Photo: Merli V. Guerra

I recently had the fun opportunity to host Easter dinner for a small gathering of family and friends (small by my Italian/Portuguese/French-Canadian standards equals nine people), with one tiny dilemma. One of our guests had spent the past year struggling with a sudden onset of dietary issues and was ultimately diagnosed with needing to follow the FODMAP diet. So while my boyfriend set forth to create a FODMAP-friendly meal (no small feat, might I add!), I was left pondering my own specialty: Dessert.

The thought process went a little something like this:
"So pastries, coffeecakes... I'm guessing those are out?"
"Right. I'm not technically celiac, but the FODMAP diet encourages me to be gluten-free, which seems to be working."
"Ok, maybe instead I can do some kind of chocolatey—"
"—Sorry!! I can't do chocolate."
"Ok, maybe a fruit salad?"
"Well... Most fruits I can't eat. Only a few I can. And I can eat berries, but not blackberries."
"Ok, racist-berry-eater, how about jello?"
"Hmmm... Let me check!" (And after a brief pause) "Actually, yes! Jello I can do."

So with gelatin now on the table, thus began my rush to the web to find the perfect dessert. After a little digging (and a lot of lip-smacking) various blogger recipes for coconut panna cotta began to catch my eye. Yet with honey off limits, I was thrilled to find one recipe with a maple syrup substitute that was finally 100% legal to my FODMAP-restricted delight.

My amazing roommate models the successful Easter desserts as our guests
likely wonder what's taking so long in the other room...
Photo: Merli V. Guerra 

A huge thank you to blogger The Detoxinista for her Easy Coconut Panna Cotta recipe. She's right—It's incredibly easy, requires just four ingredients (Coconut milk, pure maple syrup, pure vanilla extract, and gelatin), and took only about 20 minutes to make.

To give my dessert a little extra flair, I added a layer of
beautiful pure, golden maple syrup.
Photo: Merli V. Guerra

To add an extra splash of sweetness and artistry, I chose to make two batches of the panna cotta, allowing the first to set overnight in two beer flights. Next—and with science thankfully on my side—I pulled the gelled flights out in the morning, poured a quarter-inch of pure maple syrup into each, then immediately poured my second batch of panna cotta on top. Luckily, my guess was right! The syrup sank while the panna cotta liquid rose. Popping both flights back into the fridge to set for another 3–4 hours, I returned in time to serve them, adding a colorful smattering of berries and a sprinkle of sugar on top. The result was as visually successfully as it was tasty, and caused the bottom layer to most closely resemble a flan or French crème caramel. Truly an easy, dietarily-friendly dessert that I encourage everyone to try.

Photo: Merli V. Guerra

And for those trying to replicate this at home, here are a few tips:

  • If you've never used pure coconut milk before, don't be too startled if you open the can and find it solidified! Just carve it into a pan and heat it gently until it liquefies, being careful not to boil it.
  • Using two batches of The Detoxinista's recipe, I was able to comfortably fill ten 5-ounce tasting glasses. Don't forget to pick up extra syrup for the middle!
  • *For those looking to make this a vegan dish, I'm told you can replace the gelatin with agar agar. Having never tried this myself, I welcome feedback on how this goes and what amount to use!

Photo: Merli V. Guerra