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Strawberries + Dark Chocolate = Dairy Free Dessert Perfection

Dark Choc Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries2013-06-12 14.13.17

Summer berries are here in full swing!  It may be too early in the season to feast on homegrown fruit, but local farmers markets and supermarkets are fully stocked with an assortment of colorful berries, lush and bursting with flavor.

Sweet, versatile and nutritious, strawberries are one of the most well-liked fruits in the United States and perhaps the most popular of all the berries.  In addition to their distinct, juicy flavor and gorgeous crimson color, strawberries are packed with fiber and potassium and have the most Vitamin C of any berry, all at only 25 calories per half cup.  Nowadays the fruit is usually available year round, but peak season is from April to July when strawberries are welcomingly inexpensive.

Take your summer strawberries to a new height with this dairy-free, gluten-free and egg-free dessert.   I love making panna cotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) during the warmer months -- the traditional creamy eggless custard is thickened with gelatin and chilled until set (no oven required!).  This not-too-sweet dark chocolate panna cotta is a recipe you’ll find yourself turning to again and again not only because of its simple preparation but also because it is elegant, impressive and deliciously satisfying (and who can resist deep, creamy dark chocolate lusciousness on a spoon?).  Another bonus is the make-ahead nature of panna cotta; since it needs to set, you won’t be juggling dessert at the same time as your other dishes.

As chocolate is so versatile, the dark chocolate panna cotta can be dressed up differently each time you make it:  think chocolate shavings, toasted or caramelized nuts, fruit coulis, crushed toffee, chocolate or caramel sauce, or simply a raspberry and mint leaf.  But why stop there when strawberries are here and at their peak of flavor?  Enhance them and the dark chocolate with a splash of aged balsamic vinegar for a truly unforgettable summer dessert.

Enjoy this simple summer dessert perfection and let me know how yours turns out.

Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries