Gotta Make Panna Cotta

Panna cotta — which translates to “cooked cream” — is said to have originated in the province of Piemonte, the section of Italy at the top of the boot wedged between the French border and Switzerland.

Panna cotta is not really cooked cream as the name implies, but a mixture of cream and gelatin. The French version — a créme bavaroise — has eggs, lots of them, whipped with cream and a little gelatin, molded into a chilled dessert and served with a sauce. This is, of course, a close-enough relationship to eliminate panna cotta from your list of “typical” Italian dishes; it may have come from several cool mountainous regions where cream is in abundant supply.

Food seldom gets held up at border crossings.

Enough of searching for origins. Wherever it came from, it’s worth trying out and I think you will find that it goes very smoothly, a dessert that can be done ahead and tucked away in the refrigerator until you are ready.

Remember that it is served with a sauce — a fruit purée, a chocolate sauce, or perhaps some fresh strawberries.

Allene White lives in Brooklin.

Panna Cotta

  • 1 packet (1 scant Tablespoon) unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Softened unsalted butter for greasing mold

In a small bowl, combine the gelatin and milk. Stir well and set aside to soften.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and sugar. Heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil. Stir in the softened gelatin and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth and the gelatin is completely dissolved, about a minute. Pour this into a large glass measuring cup or bowl. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool to room temperature.

Lightly butter six 6-ounce custard cups or molds. Pour or spoon the cooled cream mixture into the prepared containers, distributing evenly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, at least 3 hours or as long as 12 hours.

Fresh Berry Sauce

  • 2 cups strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, or a combination
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • 3 Tbsps. sugar, or to taste

Combine the berries and vinegar or lemon juice in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a blender and process until very smooth. Sweeten with sugar, to taste. To serve, dip the base of each mold into hot water for 30 seconds. Run a knife with a flexible blade around the inside of each mold and invert directly onto an individual plate. Spoon the sauce over the top and garnish with the berries.

Makes 6 servings


Caramel Cooked Cream

In a heavy saucepan, stir together 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup water until well mixed. Cover and place over medium high heat until the sugar melts and bubbles, about 4 minutes. Remove the cover and swirl the pan, or stir the mixture until the syrup is rich amber. While the syrup cooks, brush the sides of the pan with a wet brush just above the bubbling sugar to keep crystals from forming. Remove from heat and divide the syrup among 6 heat-resistant dessert containers. Swirl each container to coat the bottom and about one third up the sides. The syrup will harden quickly. Let cool completely before spooning in the cream mixture. Omit the sauce or berry garnish.

Coffee Cooked Cream

Add 2 Tbsps. instant espresso powder to the cream while heating. Serve with a favorite warm chocolate sauce instead of the berry sauce.

Vanilla/Citrus Cooked Cream

Add one 2-inch piece of vanilla bean and the peeled zest from 1 lemon or orange to the cream before heating it. (Do not grate the zest!)

Once the cream comes to a boil, remove the vanilla bean and citrus zest before stirring in the softened gelatin.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]