I never tasted panna cotta until about a year into Paris, in the early ‘wining and dining’ days of my courtship with C. After a beautifully prepared Italian dinner at Swan et Vincent, a neighborhood restaurant in the Bastille quartier, he ordered panna cotta for dessert. It came to our table humbly in a ramekin with a veil of raspberry coulis. But its simplicity was a marvel! It had the luxurious texture of a proper pudding, but with an absolutely pure taste of cream, milk, and vanilla bean. Panna cotta is to pudding as gelato is to ice cream. Panna cota and gelato showcase the flavor of their ingredients without being weighed down with eggs. And luckily, for the humble home cook, this makes it a lot easier to make, too!
I hold no grudges against animal hooves, but the inclusion of gelatin in recipes always intimidated me a bit before making this. But much like quinoa or fennel, it was just a matter of time and a good recipe to take away any culinary fear! A basic mixture of cream, milk, and sugar is heated until warm enough to melt good-quality dark chocolate and the softened gelatin. If you are more vanilla than chocolate, the chocolate can easily be replaced with a halved and seeded vanilla bean. The mixture is poured into individual cups and chilled. I do not know who I am quoting when I say this (too much Saveur Magazine), but the finished panna cotta should have the ‘wobble of a woman’s breast’. And remember, respect for quality, pure ingredients will leave you with an exceptional result every time! Enjoy!