This rhubarb panna cotta is an easy, dreamily creamy dessert that showcases the sharp, bright taste of rhubarb in three different ways.
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What’s your favorite way to enjoy rhubarb every spring? When I was growing up, my mom would make rhubarb cobblers every year, as well as strawberry-rhubarb crisps during the magical few weeks when the seasons of both fruits overlap. Though I’ve made both of those desserts in my own kitchen, to my taste buds, my mom’s versions remain the best. All I need to do to get a taste of some of my favorite childhood treats again is to visit my parents during rhubarb season, and I’m sure to find either one of those desserts ready to enjoy.
Over the years, I’ve developed a new list of rhubarb-based favorite recipes: I make classics such as compotes, quick breads, and pies, but also more sophisticated treats such as rhubarb gelato, pâtes de fruits, and macarons. What I love most about rhubarb is its tartness, which plays so well with sweeter elements. Just like citrus fruits, I find rhubarb produces deliciously complex, not-too-sweet desserts that I can’t get enough of.
This year, I was obsessed with the idea of making rhubarb panna cotta. In my mind, combining the rich, creamy panna cotta with sharp rhubarb would undoubtedly create a dreamy treat. Fortunately, I still had some of last year’s rhubarb in the freezer, so I was able to experiment and create this memorable dessert.
This Rhubarb Panna Cotta showcases rhubarb three ways: a compote is mixed into the panna cotta itself, giving it a slightly zesty note, and also used to top the rhubarb panna cotta for a pop of color and concentrated rhubarb flavor. Poached rhubarb finishes the elegant dessert for a spectacular presentation. Don’t hesitate to double or triple those batches of compote and poached rhubarb, because I’ll bet you’ll love them on your morning toast or over oatmeal, too!
Helpful Tips for Making Rhubarb Panna Cotta
Stock up: Use rhubarb while it’s fresh and in season, but make sure to freeze some, too. Buy several bunches of fresh rhubarb, trim and wash the stalks, cut them into 5-inch (12.5 cm) lengths, and pack into resealable freezer bags. Freeze and you’ll get to enjoy rhubarb desserts all year long! Frozen rhubarb will keep for up to 3 months in a refrigerator freezer, and for up to 1 year in a chest freezer.
Plan ahead: Although panna cotta comes together in minutes, you need to make it at least a half day in advance because the mixture needs to cool completely to set.
Go upside down: For a different look, you can serve this rhubarb panna cotta unmolded, on a plate, with the compote and poached rhubarb spooned to the side. To do so, use ramekins or v-shaped smooth-sided glasses, and very lightly coat the inside of each container with a neutral oil, such as sunflower, canola, or vegetable oil. When ready to serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of the panna cotta, then invert the container over a serving plate and shake it gently. The panna cotta should slip right out.
1cup250 ml 2 in (5 cm)-long pieces of thin stalks of rhubarb
Crushed shelled pistachiosfor serving (optional)
For the rhubarb compote: In a small saucepan, combine the rhubarb, honey, lemon juice and zest, and vanilla extract. Set over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the rhubarb is very soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Blend to a very smooth consistency using a stick blender or a stand blender. You should end up with about 1 cup/250 ml) rhubarb compote. Transfer 1/2 cup (125 ml) compote to an airtight jar and refrigerate. Reserve the rest.
For the rhubarb panna cotta: Pour 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the milk into a large bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and let rest for 5 minutes (don’t mix—this step allows the gelatin to bloom.)
Pour the rest of the milk (1/2 cup/125 ml) and the heavy cream in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the honey, and vanilla extract. Heat over medium heat until you reach a light simmer. Whisk in the reserved rhubarb compote (not the one you refrigerated).
Pour the very hot milk mixture over the gelatin and whisk until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Divide the rhubarb panna cotta mixture between 8 small glasses, bowls, or ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours to set.
For the poached rhubarb: In a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a simmer, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. Stir in the vanilla extract, then add the rhubarb. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until you can just pierce a piece of rhubarb with the tip of a knife. Be careful not to overcook the rhubarb because you want the stalks to keep their shape. Set a strainer over a measuring cup and strain the rhubarb. Refrigerate the syrup for another use (smoothies or cocktails!) and refrigerate the rhubarb pieces in an airtight container until ready to serve the rhubarb panna cotta.
To serve: Spoon about 1 tablespoon (15 ml) rhubarb compote over each panna cotta. Top with some poached rhubarb. Sprinkle with crushed pistachios, if desired. Serve and enjoy!
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