THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert that literally means “cooked cream”. Its origins are attribuited to the Northern Italian region of Piemonte, although it is eaten all over Italy, where it is served with wild berries, caramel or chocolate sauce. It is not known exactly how or when this dessert came to be, but some theories suggest that cream, for which mountainous Northern Italy is famous, was historically eaten plain or sweetened with fruit or hazelnuts.
Panna Cotta contains only a few ingredients; cream (and/or milk), sugar, and vanilla that are set with gelatin (absolutely to prefere gelatin in sheets versus the powdered one). This ivory colored, custard-like pudding has a rich flavor and silky smooth texture that takes just minutes to prepare. This is the perfect dinner party dessert as it is can be made ahead, is well suited for individual servings, and is stunning to look at.
With time I realized that some may want to make the Panna Cotta lighter in taste, texture, and calories. If that is the case just substitute milk or a lighter cream for some of the heavy cream. Also, for a more intense vanilla flavor, you could substitute half a vanilla bean for the pure vanilla extract. To use a vanilla bean simply split the bean down its length and scrape out the seeds using the end of a sharp knife. Then, stir all the seeds into the cream before it is heated. This not only imparts a wonderful vanilla flavor to the cream but I also like how the seeds dot the finished Panna Cotta.
Now, do not throw away the vanilla pod once you have scraped out the seeds. This can be used to make wonderful vanilla scented sugar. To make the vanilla sugar first leave the vanilla pod on your kitchen counter for several hours or even a day until it dries out. Then, simply bury the dried vanilla pod into your canister of sugar. After a few days you will find that the flavor of vanilla has permeated through all the sugar.
For the panna cotta:
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4 -ounce envelope)
3/4cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
For the sauce
2 pounds of berries (fresh or frozen), plus some extra (fresh only)
1½ cups sugar, plus extra
½ cup of dark rum
½ cup of water
1. To make the panna cotta: In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1 ⁄4cup cream. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 1 minute.
2. Meanwhile, in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream, milk and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking frequently to dissolve sugar; remove from heat. Whisk in gelatin mixture, whisking until gelatin dissolves.
Pour mixture into 4 small bowls or ramekins and chill, covered, until set, at least 4 hours.
3. Prepare the berries sauce: In a pot over medium heat, combine the mixed berries (raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries) and sugar. Add half a coup of dark rum and half of water. Simmer for 1 to 2 hours, or until the sauce becomes thick (you can also use frozen berries which you will need to simmer for less time). Set aside to cool. Transfer to a blender (reserving several), and puree. Pass the puree through a sieve to remove the skins. Mix the reserved fresh berries with the pureed sauce.
Turn out panna cottas onto serving plates. You may have to run a knife around the ages of the bowl or tinfoil and immerge it into warm water for 3 second to facilitate the operation. Drizzle with the berries sauce and crashed Amaretti cookies. Serve with a fresh mint leaf.