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Mexican Tarragon-Infused Panna Cotta Stuffed Petite Squash

From: Pastry Chef Ann Blackwood, Kalahari Resorts, Sandusky, OH. This is one of the recipes Ann Blackwood prepared for the recent 2008 Food & Wine Celebration held at The Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, OH to benefit the hands-on Veggie U educational program (see for details). She pairs it with pistachio-encrusted goat cheese. Yield: 24 servings.

1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin

2 Tbsp. cold water

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup half-and-half

⅓ cup sugar

1½ tsp. vanilla extract (Madagascar or Tahitian)

¼ lb. good quality goat cheese

1 cup pistachios, finely ground

4 oz. Mexican tarragon

24 petite squash, lids cut off and centers hollowed-out

In small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand about 1 minute. Over low heat, soften gelatin mixture until dissolved; remove from pan. Set aside.

In large sauce pan, bring cream, half-and-half, and sugar just to boil over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally. Tie Mexican tarragon into a bundle with butcher's twine; set aside. Remove pan from heat and drop Mexican tarragon bundle into hot cream mixture. Let steep 10-15 minutes. Remove bundle and pour hot mixture through fine mesh sieve. Over moderately high heat, bring mixture just to a boil again. Remove pan from heat; pour gelatin mixture and vanilla into hot cream mixture. Pour into small squeeze bottle, then fill cavities of the edible squash vessels. Repeat as needed until all squash are filled. Let stand until they reach room temperature; refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours before service.

Place ground pistachios in small separate bowl. On cutting board, cut goat cheese into ½" slices, then cut into 6 wedges. Roll each wedge into a ball and coat with ground pistachios. Place on parchment paper.

For squash vessels: Purchase 24-48, depending on size of squash. Wash and pat dry. Cut off stems, leaving a little extra to make a nice lid. Set aside. With melon baller or Parisian scoop, hollow center of squash, paying careful attention not to remove too much or get too close to the bottom. Place into petite cupcake pans sprayed with nonstick spray. Lay lids on sheet tray with parchment. Roast in 350°F oven until softened and lightly golden brown. Remove and cool down quickly. After they are cold, fill with panna cotta mixture. Once panna cotta is set and cold, top off with goat cheese truffle ball and prop the lid on as a final garnish. Accent with small sprig of Mexican tarragon.