There’s something wonderfully soothing about panna cotta. It has a childlike quality, a bit reminiscent of blancmange, only less wobbly and much, much nicer. It’s also an absolute cinch and takes about 15 minutes from start to finish.
I’m sure my recipe and its many variations would make most Italian purists gasp in horror. First, though the name actually means ‘cooked cream’, I don’t cook the cream (as in, for example, crème brulée), just heat it enough to melt the gelatine. I also add Greek yogurt, instead of all cream, which makes it less rich and gives it a tiny lift, rather as crème fraiche would (that’s another option). For the sweetening, sometimes I add sugar, sometimes honey and even – best of all – a splash of elderflower cordial/syrup. I also like to grate in a little lemon, lime or orange zest to give added flavour. Whatever (as they say)… In summer I do it my way at least once a week and I love my various versions.
Some days I pour it into pretty glasses, leaving enough headspace for a topping. I love a shower of fragrant alpine strawberries, which are busy sprawling all over my herb garden at the moment. A purée/coulis of raspberries or strawberries also works well, as does mango (you can even – sharp intake of breath – use tinned mangoes, adding a splash of lime juice to cut the sweetness). In winter I like to make a compote of dried apricots to serve on top
An alternative serving suggestion is to pour the mixture into ramekins, dariole moulds or small plastic cups (filled right up to the brim) and then turn them out for serving over a fruit coulis or apricot compote. And don’t forget herbs (mint, lemon verbena) or edible flowers (pansies, borage, thyme, elderflowers, lavender etc.) for the garnish.
Here are my various takes on the theme. with different quantities, toppings and serving suggestions.
PANNA COTTA WITH RED FRUIT COULIS
6 sheets of gelatine
500ml whipping cream
3 x 150g Greek yogurt
Finely grated orange or lemon zest
500g strawberries or raspberries
Juice of 1 orange
Sugar to taste
Garnishes: alpine strawberries, elderflowers, lemon verbena, mint etc.
- Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water until floppy.
- Put the cream and sugar in a small pan and heat gently, stirring, till the sugar is dissolved and you can no longer hear crystals crunching about
- Squeeze out the gelatine sheets, add them to the pan and stir till dissolved.
- Allow the mixture to cool, then whisk in the Greek yogurt and grated zest with a wire whisk until smooth.
- Pour into plastic beakers or glasses, leaving at least 1 cm headspace for the coulis, and refrigerate till set.
- For the red fruit coulis, wash and hull strawberries, place in the blender with orange juice and a little sugar and blend till smooth. If you use raspberries, push the coulis through a sieve to remove pips.
- Once they are set, spoon a little coulis on top and garnish with an edible flower or lemon verbena leaf.
… WITH ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL, STRAWBERRY COULIS
4 sheets of gelatine
300ml whipping cream
grated zest of ½ a lemon
100ml elderflower cordial (syrup)
300g Greek yogurt
icing sugar to taste – 1 – 2 tablespoons
- Put the gelatine sheets in a bowl, cover with cold water and leave until floppy
- Put the cream, sugar and lemon zest in a small pan and stir over gentle heat till the sugar is dissolved and you can no longer hear crystals crunching about
- Lift gelatine sheets out of the water, squeeze out excess water, drop sheets into pan of cream and sugar and stir till dissolved (1 minute)
- Add elderflower cordial/syrup and allow the mixture to cool
- When cool, whisk in the Greek yogurt until smooth
- Pour into moulds, ramekins or straight-sided plastic beakers and refrigerate till set
- Hull strawberries and rinse, put in the blender with a little icing sugar and blend till smooth to make a coulis.
- To serve, pour a puddle of coulis onto serving plates. Run a knife round the inside of the moulds, turn the panne cotte out over the coulis and top with herbs or edible flowers.
… WITH YOGURT AND PERLE DE LAIT, MANGO COULIS
Makes 6 glasses
3 sheets gelatine
250ml whipping cream
1 carton (125g) natural yogurt
1 carton (125g) lemon-flavoured Perle de Lait
1 x 400g can mango slices
juice of 1 lime
- Put gelatine sheets in a bowl, cover with cold water and leave until floppy
- Put cream and sugar ina small pan, heat gently till the sugar is dissolved and you can no longer heat crystals crunching about
- Lift gelatine sheets of the water, squeeze them out and drop them into the pan. Stir till dissolved
- Tip the mixture into a blender, add yogurt and Perle de Lait and blend till smooth
- Divide the mixture between 6 glasses and refrigerate till set
- Drain the mango slices, place in blender with lime juice and blend till smooth.
- Pour a layer of mango coulis over the panne cotte and top with mint or lemon verbena.
… WITH WARM APRICOT COMPOTE
4 sheets of gelatine (or 1 envelope powdered gelatine)
300ml whipping cream (Schlagrahm/crème fraîche fluide)
300g Greek yogurt
Grated zest of ½ a lemon
150g dried apricots
200ml off-dry white wine (Vouvray, Gewurztraminer etc.)
2 tbsp honey
Juice of ½ lemon
6-8 cardamom pods, seeds only
- Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water until floppy (or sprinkle the powdered gelatine onto 3 tablespoons water in a small bowl until spongy).
- Put the cream and sugar in a small pan and heat gently, stirring, till the sugar is dissolved and you can no longer hear crystals crunching about.
Squeeze out the gelatine sheets, add them (or the powdered gelatine) to the pan and stir till dissolved.
- Tip this mixture into the blender and allow to cool to lukewarm. When cool, add the Greek yogurt and lemon zest and blend until smooth.
- Pour the mixture into dariole moulds, ramekins or plastic beakers and refrigerate until set.
- For the apricot compote, cut the apricots in quarters and put in a pan with the wine, honey and lemon juice.
- Crush the cardamom pods with the blade of a heavy knife, take out the seeds and add them to the pan.
- Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes or until apricots are soft and translucent and the wine reduced to a syrupy consistency (can be prepared ahead to this point, ready to be reheated).
- To serve, reheat the compote.
- Run a knife round the inside of the moulds, turn the panne cotte out onto serving plates and surround with some warm compote.