What is panna cotta?
The Italian dessert panna cotta (pronounce: “PAN-nah KOT-tah”) means literally cooked (cotta) cream (panna). It is one of the simplest desserts in the world: a pudding consisting of good quality cream with possibly some milk, a minimal amount of gelatine and some sugar. Additional flavour may be added to give the pudding a subtle taste. Vanilla, for example, or rose water.
The dish is most commonly associated with the Italian region of Piedmont, although the exact age of the dish is unknown. According to some, it has been on the menu since the beginning of the twentieth century, while others estimate panna cotta to be a much younger dish.
This Italian dessert is delicate, silky smooth and just set. If you see it wiggle on your plate, you should be surprised that it stops and does not flow over the plate like a pile of white custard; then you have the right consistency.
How to prepare panna cotta
Despite the name of the dish, there is little cooking involved in making panna cotta. A mixture of whole cream is heated with sugar until the sugar has dissolved. As soon as the mixture comes to the boil, it is removed from the heat. Soaked gelatine is dissolved in this. Depending on how strong the chef wants to make the dessert, some milk or buttermilk may be added to the cream. The mixture is then poured into moulds. The puddings gradually set when cooling and are then turned out onto plates.
How to eat
Italians love the simplicity of a pure panna cotta and prefer to enjoy it with hardly any additional extras. However, many other countries love to add something fruity to a panna cotta. Raspberry coulis, for example, or a poached red plum or passion fruit pulp. Add what you like best because almost everything works with this delicious dessert.
Spanish crema catalana is the slightly less modest version of the panna cotta – complete with a crispy burnt sugar layer.