Panna cotta is one of the most well known and widespread Italian desserts. It comes from Piedmont and its origin dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Typically it is served with berries, caramel or chocolate sauce, and because of its great versatility it is possible to create a different topping every time. It is up to your creativity.
It is very easy to prepare; you do not need special skills, and you have only to use a few tricks. The ingredients are few and easy to find, such as heavy cream, vanilla and sugar. Gelatin, the so-called “fish glue” in Italian (mainly from pork cartilage, bones, etc..) is commonly used. I prepare a healthier recipe suitable for vegetarians, as well. I replace gelatin with agar-agar , a vegetable derivative with a strong gelling activity. Agar-agar is obtained from red algae and is used as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin and as a thickener for soups, as well as in fruit preserves, ice cream and other desserts, If you prefer using gelatin, the amount is different: 5-6 g agar-agar to 8 g gelatine.
500 ml ( about 2 cups) heavy cream
70 g (2.5 oz) granulated sugar
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise (seeds scraped out)
4-5 g (about 1 scarce teaspoon) agar-agar
1. In a small container (for example 1/3 cup) mix well the sugar and agar-agar
2. Place the cream in a saucepan with the sugar mix and vanilla seeds
3. Mix well with a whisk and heat to reach about 80 °C (175 °F). Cook for 3-4 minutes on a medium-low heat
4. Place in 4 different silicone molds and let rest in the fridge for about 4-5 hours.
You can also use different types of material for the molds. To unmold the panna cotta from aluminum molds (or other metal) it is enough to dip them in boiling water for a couple of seconds. If you use plastic molds instead, wet the molds before filling them with the mixture, it seems that this helps. Much simpler instead is working with silicone molds; in fact in this case just press from the outside and the panna cotta slips out very easily. If this does not happen, place for about 10-15 minutes in a freezer.
5. Turn the panna cotta out on a plate and garnish as you like. I love it with berries, in particular raspberries. Check Semifreddo al pistacchio for the red-raspberry sauce recipe. I use half of the berries for the sauce and the rest for garnishing. You can also enjoy with only just fresh berries.
Note: Please read on the package the proportion liquid/agar-agar, because it may vary from brand to brand. – Paola