I don’t have a pastry chef on staff at my house so I’m always on the lookout for an easy-to-make dessert like panna cotta. This Italian treat is smooth and light and can be flavoured with any herb, spice or liqueur. It’s so simple to make that it will quickly become part of your repertoire.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
4 cups milk
1 cup white or brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of your favourite spice or herb or a splash of your favourite liqueur
2 packages unflavoured gelatin (about 2 1/2 teaspoons each)
Pour almost all of the milk into a small saucepot and gently warm it over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and spices or liqueur. Continue heating until the mixture just begins to simmer.
Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin powder over the remaining milk. Let it rest for a minute or two to allow the gelatin to begin to rehydrate and absorb moisture. Pour in the hot milk mixture and stir until the gelatin is completely melted and dissolves into the mixture.
Divide the mixture evenly between 6 small dessert moulds. To help the panna cottas release easily, lightly oil the moulds before filling them. (Have fun with the moulds. Look around the house: teacups and ramekins work best but even Styrofoam and plastic cups trimmed to size work well too.)
Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight. To release the panna cotta from its mould, gently loosen the edges, cover with a small plate, then flip over. Don’t worry about leftovers! There won’t be any.
Instead of the white or brown sugar, you may use honey or maple syrup. One of my favourite savoury flavourings for panna cotta is a bit of minced rosemary. Its woodsy flavour is perfectly enhanced by the vanilla. Spiced rum, Grand Marnier, nutmeg and saffron are all tasty too.
Every chef knows how easy it is to jazz up dessert by pureeing fruits into simple sauces. With just a few simple ingredients, a bit of gentle heat and a strong blender you too can transform almost any ripe fruit into a colourful backdrop for almost any dessert. Apricot uniquely creates the smoothest sauce of them all though. Its’ juicy tender flesh and fresh aromatic flavour go well with everything. Even at dessert you can fill Half Your Plate!