PANNA COTTA : An Elegant Italian Dessert
Panna cotta (“cooked cream”) is a fantastically elegant and delicate pudding originating in the Piemonte region, but nowadays enjoyed all over Italy. It’s a wonderful dessert for spring and summer as it’s served chilled, doesn’t require any baking, and pairs wonderfully with all sorts of fresh fruit or fruit sauces, though it can also be served with chocolate sauce, caramel, or really any dessert topping you can think of.
Some suggestions for topping recipes: cherry compote, blueberry-wine coulis, easy homemade chocolate sauce.
Originally it was made by boiling cream together with fish bones, but now gelatin (in either powder or sheet form) is the much-easier-to-find (and probably more appetizing) thickener of choice.
Making it with a vanilla bean gives the finished pudding a lovely, rich vanilla flavor and an attractive speckled appearance, but you may use vanilla extract or vanilla paste instead.
• 1 cup whole milk
• 2 3/4 teaspoons powdered gelatin
• 3 cups cream
• 1 two-inch piece of vanilla bean pod, slit open lengthwise, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt
1.Pour the milk into a medium saucepan or bowl and sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over its surface. Set aside and let sit for 10 minutes.
2.Prepare a very large bowl with 4 cups of cold water and about 2-3 dozen ice cubes. Set aside.
3.Place the cream in a medium bowl and scrape the vanilla seeds into it. Add the vanilla pod as well and set aside. (If using extract, you may skip this step and simply stir the extract into the cream.)
4.Arrange 8 round glasses or small ceramic ramekins on a baking sheet.
5.Heat the milk in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat, stirring constantly, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and and add the sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved, about 1 minute. Slowly pour the cream and vanilla mixture into the hot milk, transfer the cream-and-milk mixture to a large metal bowl and set the bottom of the metal bowl into the ice water bath, being careful not to let any water enter the bowl. Stir the cream and milk mixture over the ice water bath until it thickens to the consistency of egg nog, about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and distribute evenly in the glasses or ramekins. Cover the entire baking sheet with plastic wrap and chill until set, about 4 hours.
6.When ready to serve, unmold each panna cotta onto a small plate and top with fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, fresh or poached peaches, and black or red currants are a particularly good complement), fruit compote, or the topping of your choice.
Dip the bottom of each ramekin into a bowl filled with boiling water for a few seconds and use your fingers to gently pull the pudding away from the sides of the ramekin. Invert the ramekin over the serving plate and very gently shake to loosen it onto the plate. You can also serve the pudding directly in the ramekin or glass, topped with sauce or fruit.