Food & Drink

Panna cotta a blank canvas for grand desserts

Cool and elegant, panna cotta is the little white dress of summer, ready to be dressed up or down, depending on your mood.

The creamy custard recently has popped up on so many swanky menus, diners may be forgiven for thinking it's a new, trendy thing. Panna cotta, which means "cooked cream," is a classic Italian dessert. Or it is in its traditional form.

These days, chefs are taking the pale custard to new heights. There's no denying the dinner party appeal of a dish that can be made the night before and adapted to fit any taste or occasion.

At its most basic, panna cotta is a milky blend — of buttermilk and cream, for example, or goat milk — that gets its set from gelatin. There are no eggs, and flavorings are minimal, so the flavors are clean and light. And unlike its baked cousins, flan and creme brulee, this custard thickens in the refrigerator, while the chef walks away, cool as a cucumber.

BUTTERMILK PANNA COTTA WITH BERRIES

This recipe is courtesy of Sara Foster, Bon Appetit magazine, Epicurious.com. Serves 6.

2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla

Assorted berries

Pour 2 tablespoons water into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes. Lightly spray six 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups with nonstick spray.

Heat cream, lemon peel and sugar in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring just to low boil, stirring occasionally. Add gelatin mixture; remove from heat. Stir until gelatin dissolves. Cool mixture to lukewarm, stirring often.

Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; divide mixture among prepared ramekins. Refrigerate panna cotta until set, about 4 hours or overnight.

Serve in ramekins, topped with berries. Or, using a small sharp knife, cut around panna cotta in each ramekin. Invert onto individual plates, allowing panna cotta to settle onto plate. Top with berries and serve.

The Wichita Eagle — 08/24/11

PANNA COTTA WITH STRAWBERRIES

This recipe is from Chuck Williams and Kristine Kidd, "Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home." Serves 12.

1 envelope (1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup milk

4 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup sugar

2-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise

3 tablespoons light rum

FRUIT:

4 cups strawberries

1/4cup sugar, or as needed

Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and let stand 5 minutes to soften.

Combine the cream and 3/4 cup sugar. Using the tip of a sharp knife, scrape the vanilla seeds into the cream, then add the pod. Place over medium heat; stir until the cream just starts to simmer. Off heat, add gelatin mixture; stir to dissolve completely. Cool 10 minutes.

Remove vanilla pod. Stir in rum. Divide mixture among 1/2-cup ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until set, about 8 hours.

About an hour before serving, combine half the berries with 1/4 cup sugar, and crush with a fork. Slice remaining strawberries and add to the bowl. Toss to combine. Taste and add sugar, if needed. Cover and chill until serving.

To unmold, set each ramekin in enough warm water to reach halfway up the sides. Let stand 20 seconds. Remove from water, wipe dry, then place a serving plate on top and invert. Shake gently until the custard comes loose. (You may need to run a small knife around the inside edge of the cup to loosen.) Spoon berries around the creams and serve.

The Wichita Eagle — 08/24/11

CREAM CHEESE PANNA COTTA WITH PLUOT SAUCE

"Blooming" the gelatin (letting it soak for 3 to 5 minutes) helps ensure a smooth final result. Serves 24. Recipe Courtesy of Patti Dellamonica-Bauler, pastry chef, Lark Creek Restaurant Group.

6 cups half-and-half

6 cups cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons green cardamom pods, toasted and crushed

16 grams rosemary, stemmed and bruised

16 gelatin sheets, bronze, bloomed in ice water

3 3/4 cups cream cheese

2 cups superfine sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

1 cup pluot sauce (see recipe)

Sliced pluots

Heat the half-and-half and cream gently to 150-160 degrees. Add salt, cardamom and rosemary and let the flavors infuse for 30 minutes.

Thoroughly drain the gelatin sheets and place them in a large bowl. Warm the cream mixture again and pour through a fine sieve, over the gelatin. Whisk until melted. Set aside to cool.

In an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla paste until creamy and smooth.

Remove from mixer and whisk in the cooled, infused cream. Pass again through a fine sieve and fill ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

When ready to serve, dip ramekins, one at a time, into a bowl of hot water for 3 seconds. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin and invert ramekin onto center of a small plate. Garnish each panna cotta with 1 tablespoon pluot sauce and slices of fresh pluot.

PLUOT SAUCE:

2 1/2 pounds pluots

1 tablespoon orange juice

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4teaspoon vanilla

Slice three pluots into slim wedges, 12 each.

Peel and chop the remaining pluots. Add the juice, sugar and vanilla, and cook in a saucepan over medium heat until syrupy. Let cool, then puree. Stir the pluot slices into the sauce.

The Wichita Eagle — 08/24/11

  Comments