Traditional Italian panna cotta is made with milk, sweetener and gelatin to help it firm up. It’s the perfect do-ahead dessert, and it’s light, refreshing and an excellent partner for the fruit of any season. We’ve seen a lot of variations that use buttermilk. These are rich and delicious, but for Kosher tables, there’s still the matter of the gelatin, an animal derivative. This recipe offers the solution: agar powder (aka, agar agar). It has the same ability to help the panna cotta hold its shape, but because it is derived from sea vegetables, it makes this dessert totally kosher and vegetarian. We serve it here with luscious roasted cherries. Allow 2 hours for the panna cotta to chill.
Combine the cream, sugar, vanilla bean pod and seeds and agar in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and, whisking very gently, cook for about 7 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the buttermilk.
Ladle the mixture into 6 (6-ounce) ramekins. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours, until set.
Meanwhile, to roast the cherries, preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a sheet pan with a Silpat or parchment paper.
Split each cherry roughly in half with your thumbs, and remove and discard the pits. Spread the pitted cherries out on the prepared pan.
Sprinkle the cherries with the demerara sugar and roast for 30 minutes, or until the cherry skins begin to wrinkle, but the fruit is still somewhat firm. Let cool.
To assemble, top each panna cotta with about 1 tablespoon of the fruit and serve immediately.