For our Italian dinner party last weekend I served a trio of desserts, several little treats to satisfy the sweet tooth. Coming in my next posts are Italian almond meringue cookies, amaretti, and fragole al balsamico, or strawberries with balsamic vinegar.
But first, my showcase dessert choice was a panna cotta, which is Italian for cooked cream. This is such an easy dessert to make, but it presents elegantly. I used vanilla bean paste instead of extract for the contrasting flecks of dark vanilla bean against the white cream. For colour and as a counterpoint to the richness of the cream, I made a quick blackberry coulis to puddle on top before serving. A blackberry garnish added the final touch of fruity flair. (Looking at my photos, I see the blackberries seem huge in comparison to the petite espresso cups; next time I may make this with a raspberry coulis and a single raspberry daintily perched on top.)
Much as I enjoy desserts, and have been known to empty the cookie jar, I don’t care to end my meal with a heavy helping of sweets. So I used half of the recipe presented below, which was enough to fill six of my sunshine yellow and white espresso cups. With a cookie on the side and a small bowl of the strawberries to follow, this trio was a lightly sweet and refreshing dessert.
I made the panna cotta the night before, and left it well-wrapped in the refrigerator. It takes all of 20 minutes to make this dessert, and the oohs and ahhs you’ll receive from your guests will be quite disproportionate to the effort you invested in it.
This is definitely a dessert you’ll want to have in your repertoire!
Recipe slightly adapted from Kathleen Sloan’s Rustic Italian Cooking. As noted above, I cut the recipe in half, but you might want to have it all! I did use the whole envelope of gelatin, but think I would prefer my panna cotta less firmly set next time. In other words, I should have stuck to the proportions presented in the original recipe!
- 4 (1 L) cups whipping cream (35%)
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla bean paste (you could use vanilla extract)
- 1 envelope gelatin
In a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the cream, sugar and vanilla just until the cream is beginning to ripple a little. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup of cold water and let sit for a minute. Add 1/4 cup of boiling water and stir to dissolve the gelatin. Combine with the hot cream and stir to ensure the gelatin is fully dissolved and mixed in.
Pour the mixture into ramekins, custard cups or other serving dishes of your choosing. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
From a small packet of blackberries, select 6 to use as garnishes on top of the panna cotta. Set aside until serving time. Rinse the rest of the blackberries and put into a small pot with just a bit of water and a teaspoon of sugar if you wish. Roughly mash the berries with the back of a spoon or a fork. Once the blackberries have cooked and released their juices, press through a sieve to capture all the juice, leaving behind the skins and seeds to discard. You can cook down further over medium low heat for a few minutes to thicken the coulis somewhat. Cover the coulis and refrigerate until serving time.