Call it what you will, most European countries have some variation of this, be it Creme caramel, Creme Brulee, Crema Catalana, or our own very poor cousin, the Blancmange (sounds convincingly French?). To be fair these all seem to be tinted, hinted or down right burnt with sugar where as the Italian Panna cotta is not. In praise of its’ simplicity in its unadulterated form it literally is cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and gelatine. Brought to simmering point and set, it is in many ways not dissimilar to a wibbly wobbly cream-milk jelly – sounds shocking but because of its Italian heritage, it works.
Good and bad Panna cotta also exist. I like mine just set – the sole purpose of the sparingly used gelatine being to hold it together not to create a bouncy trampoline you can spring half a dozen raspberries off. So imagine my surprise when raiding the wonderful ‘Olivino’ for Sardinian Red Prawns (that’s another story), when I spotted the most delightful looking single portion jelly moulds on the counter containing Panna cotta – just the way I like it. Geniously sold with some sweet raspberry coulis the ‘one portion wonder’ is a complete marvel and the most gorgeous treat for a home alone dinner. This however is not a practical way to cater for 10 people, well, actually it is extremely practical – just not economical ! Hence I started rooting around my pile of cookbooks to find a tried and tested recipe that I would have used in Sugar & Spice days.
Ballymaloe Bible sprung to mind, as did Leiths, The River Cafe and The Silver Spoon. All recipes vary somewhat – some exclude milk, some use gelatine granules, others use sheet gelatine. I ended up going with The Silver Spoon, mainly because it used gelatine sheets and I happened to have them in my larder, but in my opinion they use too many and I would guess that you could get away with using half what the recipe recommends, actually I’m not guessing – you absolutely certainly can get away with using half. The beauty of Panna cotta for a dinner party outing is that it can be prepared in advance and teamed with any number of seasonal fruit and berry combinations to suit the time of year. Summer berries are a no brainer now but blood oranges are divine in the early months, a little poached rhubarb is heaven and some sloe gin soaked damsons seriously naughty when autumn approaches. Traditionally it is served in a mould and then turned out but in the calamity of my kitchen we seemed to be ‘mouldless’ so I settled on shot glasses instead – somewhat unconventional but very pretty.
‘The Silver Spoon’ – Panna cotta – with a little less gelatine!
5g of sheet gelatine
100ml of full fat milk
500ml of double cream
100g of caster sugar
1 vanilla pod with seeds scraped into the cream
Fill a small bowl with cold water and soak the gelatine leaves to soften.
Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring to just below simmering point, then remove the pan.
Drain and squeeze out the gelatine and add it to the milk – stirring all the time so it dissolves.
Now pour the cream into a pan with the scraped out vanilla pod and bring to the boil over a low heat.
Immediately remove from the heat, add the milk and gelatine mixture and remove the vanilla pod. Pour into molds or shot glasses or whatever you choose to serve the Panna cotta in. Chill in the fridge until set.
C’est la vie – if you want a versatile, creamy, easy to prepare dessert for a party of friends this is certainly worth a try. If you can’t face making it yourself – well ‘Olivino’ have answered your prayers and made one for you!! Check out the photos below – the single portions have to be the ‘quaintest’ things ever!
‘Olivino’ – Lower Belgrave St, London.