Panna cotta with sweetened memories
It seems reminiscing is all I can do lately. It must be the age…I’ve lived half the life my father did and this thought makes me look back more. I miss my highschool friends, being in school and studying (or not), exchanging notes, jokes and laughter with them in between schoolwork and other activities. It’s like everything I look at are memorabilias of the life I’ve lived…but everytime I pick a scene to relive, it’s very clear as though it was yesterday.
I’ve had my share of good food with friends back then. Simple meals and dishes concocted for a country-girl’s palate. In school, some common foodjoint, a special restaurant but mostly at home…friends’ homes. Once in a while, we get treated to something unique and unusual from the fare. Among the few desserts there were, Panna Cotta reigns supreme.
Chefs could go wild with variations on Panna cotta, flavoring the cream while it heats. A little coffee, a fresh bay leaf, a touch of almond extract or torn mint works well…the possibilities are endless.
Some often dress up panna cotta with complicated sauces too, from caramel to blueberries, raspberries and chocolates or coffee-inspired creaminess. I like it on its own, plain, mouth-watering, unassuming form. I have, however, known a better alternative for sauces…Jellyace sweetened gelatines…a childhood favorite! Thanks to our Math teacher (my bestfriend’s mom)…my memories of Panna Cotta are always perfect and yummy! (Though we knew panna cotta by another name…) Their home was and is always a pleasure to visit. One that always have a welcome-y atmosphere. One that you’d consider your own…especially when food, aromatic as they were would be served like there’s no tomorrow. (Thanks Ma’am and Tito Danny!)
Panna Cotta ((italian) loosely translates to cooked cream. There could be differences in consistency among chefs, but I liked the one that Tita Minda would make for us, greedy it may sound but yes I can finish a whole serving of this… probably 250 grams… I am still not able to achieve that perfect consistency, as this is the closest I can get but hopefully in time and with practice I will. Here is an adapted recipe from an online cooking source. The sauce is a bottled strawberry concoction.
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin (approx. 2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup milk (if you use condensed milk, omit the sugar)
2 1/2 cups heavy cream*
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh berries, gently washed, drained, and sweetened to taste**
6 sprigs fresh mint
*Half & half, buttermilk, whole milk, and/or sour cream may be substituted for part of the cream.
Any assortment of fresh, seasonal fruit may be served with panna cotta, but berries are especially nice. To use other ripe, soft fruits, such as cherries, peaches or apricots, just remove the stones and peels as necessary and cut them into thin slices or bite-size pieces. They could be made into jam-like sauces as well.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup milk; let stand until the gelatin is softened, about 5 minutes.
In a large saucepan, combine heavy cream and sugar. Add vanilla extract or vanilla bean. If using a vanilla bean, slice the bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds into cream (add whole bean to cream for additional flavor). Bring cream just to a simmer (do not let it boil), whisking occasionally until sugar has completely dissolved; remove from heat and remove vanilla bean pod. Add the softened gelatin mixture and whisk to completely dissolve the gelatin.
Strain hot cream mixture into a large glass measuring cup with a pouring spout; pour into ramekins or custard cups.
NOTE: Don’t skip the straining step as it removes any bits of undissolved gelatin and insures a nice smooth dessert. Also, don’t let the cream mixture cool before straining. If using a vanilla bean, lightly swirl the cream to distribute the seeds evenly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
To unmold and serve, carefully dip bottom of each ramekin in a baking pan of hot water briefly. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin to loosen it from the inside of the bowl. Wipe the outside of the mold dry and place on individual chilled serving plate (topside down). Invert the custard onto the plate and carefully lift off ramekin (shake gently to release). Garnish with berries or fruit or a favorite sauce of your choice.
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