For those of you who have not made panna cotta, you might be intimidated by the idea. I was. After all, the results are impressive and seemingly skill-requiring - Italian grandmother slaving away all day skill-requiring. On top of that, panna cotta uses gelatin, something that isn't found in most present-day pantries and comes animal by-product. Yes, traditional panna cotta is not vegetarian.
What if I were to tell you that panna cotta is incredibly easy to make and not only that, it's also very forgiving? By forgiving, I mean that you can adjust the milk to cream ratio, incorporate yogurt or buttermilk, or even play around with dairy-free milks or vegan gelatin and still create a luscious and beautifully wobbly gel. The other great thing about panna cotta is that it's the perfect canvas for a variety of flavor combinations from saffron pistachio to berry compote and nutmeg to dusted dark chocolate or bay nuts.
There's nothing wrong with serving panna cotta in its container with a spoon, but it doesn't require much more work to remove the gel from it's container and put it on a plate and doing this elevates the dessert to very classy level. Recipe below is adapted from a Smitten Kitchen recipe and makes 4 individual servings.
- Grapeseed oil, to crease ramekins or other containers used to hold panna cotta
- A few saffron threads per panna cotta
- 1-1/2 teaspoons (or 4 grams) unflavored gelatin
- 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1/4 cup toasted pistachios, chopped
- Honey, to drizzle
Lightly grease containers for panna cotta with grapeseed oil and add a few saffron threads to each container. Ramekins or small cups or bowls work well. Taller/more narrow containers such as jars also work, but make it harder to remove the panna cotta once it has cooled.
Place 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Stir in gelatin and allow to soften, about 10-15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt with 1/4 cup cream and 1/4 cup milk. Add remaining cream and milk to a saucepan, stir in granulated sugar, and bring to a simmer. Stir in gelatin mixture to dissolve, remove from heat, then whisk into dairy mixture. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean into mixture along with lemon juice and whisk. Pour into cups, stir once with a fork or chopstick to mix around saffron, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. This can be done the night before.
To unmold the cups, fill a saucepan with about 3/4-inch of water and bring to a simmer. Turn off heat and a dip panna cotta cup into the water for 5 seconds, then invert it onto a flat plate. Repeat with remaining cups.
Right before serving, drizzle with honey and top with 1 tablespoon of chopped toasted pistachio. See below for inspiration for other panna cotta variations.