Panna Cotta

Panna cotta cream dessert, with a recipe. 

Panna cotta is said to be from Piemonte, and although no one I spoke to could pin down anything else about its origins, this is indeed where I first tasted the dish over twenty years ago. One food historian surmised that it began with the habit of eating cream raw and plain, which gradually turned into a chilled cooked-cream dessert.

In Piemonte, panna cotta is often flavored with hazelnuts or spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, and served with a caramel sauce. Other toppings range from fruit purées to chocolate sauce.The dessert has swept the country the same way that tiramisù did a few years ago. In almost all cases panna cotta is not really "cooked cream," as the name states, but rather a mixture of cream and gelatin similar to an eggless bavarian.

My favorite version of the dessert isn't Piemontese, but instead comes from the Osteria Giusti in Modena. It's the only one I've ever made where the cream is actually cooked, and I'm wild about the consistency since it hardly contains any gelatin. I highly recommend you try this Panna Cotta recipe for yourself.

April 15, 1997


serves 4

2 cups heavy cream minus 2 tablespoons to dissolve gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin (1/2 packet)
4-8 tablespoons sauce

Heat cream with sugar and simmer for 15 minutes. 
Sprinkle gelatin over reserved 2 tablespoons of cream.  Add to simmered cream off heat and stir to dissolve.  Pour 1/2 cup of the mixture into 4 lightly oiled metal molds and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.  Dip mold in hot water and run a knife around the edge of the panna cotta and unmold on individual serving dishes.  Served each with 1-2 tablespoons sauce--fruit or chocolate--Osteria Giusti uses saba, grape must that's cooked for 12 hours until thick, not worth attempting by anyone without a source of wine-grape must.  Substitute sweetened fruit puree, fruit or chocolate sauce.


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