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Eric Akis: Tasty appetizer, decadent dessert use in-season fruit

I have two colourful late summer recipes for you to try. One you can serve as an appetizer or light lunch, the other a classic Italian-style dessert with a twist.

I have two colourful late summer recipes for you to try. One you can serve as an appetizer or light lunch, the other a classic Italian-style dessert with a twist.

The former is an adaptation of a recipe that appeared in a column I did on the Saltspring Island Cheese Company over 23 years ago. The company’s owner, David Wood, made it for it for me when I interviewed him and it subsequently became one of my favourite summer dishes.

To make it, a round of creamy, tangy, wonderful Saltspring Island goat cheese is set on a platter and surrounded with slices of ripe, local tomatoes. Those tomatoes are topped with halved cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and olives, if desired, and then everything is drizzled and sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper.

The tomatoes are allowed to sit 10 minutes so their juices can meld with the oil.It’s then time to set out some sliced baguette or other crusty bread and let diners spread and pile the cheese and tomatoes on it.

My dessert recipe is panna cotta.It’s an Italian-style dessert traditionally made with sweetened and flavoured hot cream that’s chilled and thickened with gelatin into a custard-like creation, minus the eggs.

My twist on the dessert was to use coconut milk instead of cream.The end result is a dairy-free, light in texture dessert that I served with summer fruit compote.In the recipe you’ll see that I’ve given you the option to serve the panna cotta in the cups you made them in, or more fancifully unmould them onto dessert plates as you see in the photo.

Tomatoes with Saltspring Island Goat Cheese, Basil and Olives

A mix between a salad and an appetizer, this dish is best shared in a casual way with your dinner companions.All you need is some sliced baguette or other crusty bread to spread and mound the cheese and tomatoes on.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: none
Makes: four to six servings

1 (150 gram) round Saltspring Island goat cheese (see Note)

4 ripe, red medium on-the-vine or heirloom tomatoes

10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, each halved (choose a mix of different coloured ones)extra virgin olive oil, to taste

12 or more fresh basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces if largeniçoise or kalamata olives, to taste (optional)salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place cheese in the centre of a round serving platter or large plate. Cut the 4 tomatoes into thin slices and place them in an over-lapping pattern around the cheese. Top those tomatoes with the halved cherry tomatoes, basil and olives, if using

Liberally pour olive oil - 1/4 cup should do - over everything, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper.Let stand 10 minutes to allow the juices from the tomatoes to meld with the oil, and it’s ready to enjoy.

Note: Saltspring Island goat cheese is sold in the deli section of most grocery stores.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Summer Fruit Compote

In this recipe, coconut milk replaces the cream traditionally used when making this light in texture Italian-style dessert. Orange liqueur, vanilla and cinnamon flavour the panna cotta, which is served and complimented with colourful fruit compote.

Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus setting time
Cooking time: a few minutes
Makes: four servings

2 Tbsp orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec (see Eric options)

1 packet (1 Tbsp) unflavoured gelatin, such as Knox brand

1 (400 mL) can coconut milk

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extractsummer fruit compote (see recipe below)

4 mint sprigs (optional)

Pour liqueur into a small pot. Sprinkle with gelatin and let stand 5 minutes.

Add coconut milk, sugar and vanilla to the pot.Set over medium heat and bring mixture just to the scalding point, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar and gelatin. Remove from the heat.

Divide and pour mixture into four glass, 1/2- or 3/4-cup custard cups (see Note). Cool to room temperature.Now cover and refrigerate panna cotta until set, at least 4 hours, or overnight.

You can serve the panna cotta right in the cups, topped with some of the fruit compote and garnished with mint sprigs.Or, as you can see in the photo, unmould each panna cotta on to a dessert plate.

To do that, carefully run the tip of thinparing knife around the outer edges of one of the custard cups, inserting it about 1/2-inch deep. Dip the custard cup into a bowl of hot water 15 seconds. Invert the custard cup on to the centre of a dessert plate and the panna cotta should release on to it. If it does not release, dip the custard cup back in the hot water a few seconds more. Unmould and plate the other panna cotta in this fashion. Spoon fruit compote around each plated panna cotta, garnish with mint sprigs and serve.

Note: Glass custard cups are sold in the cooking section of hardware stores and at kitchenware stores.

Eric’s options: If you don’t want to use liqueur, replace with 2 Tbsp orange juice.

Summer Fruit Compote

An easy to make, saucy fruit mixture you can serve on or alongside the panna cotta.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: a few minutes
Makes: about 1 3/4 cups

2 cups assorted fresh fruit, such as whole or sliced strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, and cubes or small slices of nectarines and plums

2 Tbsp icing sugar

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp water

1/4 tsp pure vanilla extractpinch ground cinnamon

Place the ingredients in a nine-inch skillet. Set over medium-heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer three minutes, or until fruit releases some of their juices, but are still holding their shape. Transfer compote to a serving bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until needed for the panna cotta. It can be made many hours in advance.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.