Monday, December 28, 2009

Panna Cotta

December 2009 221-1 Looking for a quick, easy but elegant dessert to ring in the new year? Look no further than this Italian dessert of panna cotta, which literally translates to “cooked cream.”  While heavy cream and sugar aren’t exactly diet friendly, it is the holidays after all and this recipe does include some yogurt. Well now, that settles it. It’s downright nutritious too! And did I say delicious? Surrounded by a moat of raspberry sauce and a central jumble of fresh berries, it’s a festive dessert and one you’ll want to keep in your back pocket for other special occasions too, like Valentine’s Day.

Make sure you use a real vanilla bean and good vanilla extract, not vanilla flavoring. The good folks at Marx Foods were kind enough to send me some Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla beans to try. Tahitian vanilla beans are usually shorter, plumper, and contain a higher oil and water content than Madagascar or Bourbon beans. When compared to Madagascar vanilla beans, they have a slightly more fruity and floral aroma, but an equally rich vanilla flavor. For this recipe, I used one of the Tahitian beans, but the Madagascar would work just as well.

If you’ve never used real vanilla beans, you won’t believe the fragrance they exude once you split open the bean and unveil those little seeds that resemble miniature black caviar eggs. Naturally all that vanilla goodness imbues itself into whatever recipe you’re using, but it’s particularly noticeable in dishes like panna cotta, crème brulee or homemade vanilla ice cream.

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This dessert  literally goes together in ten minutes, then you can pour it into individual ramekins, or use a tube ring for a large crowd. I used a 5-cup ring and oiled the pan just ever so slightly, to help release the panna cotta.

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When you’re ready to unmold, run a knife around the edge of the metal tube pan, place a dish over the top and flip. If it seems ornery and unwilling to plop out, wet a dish towel with hot water and place over the metal, or dip the metal mold into a bit of hot water. You may have to repeat it a few times, but it should release with no problem. Surround with the raspberry sauce and fill the center hole with the mixed berries. Look at all those specks of vanilla bean.

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Unless you’re lactose intolerant, bet you won’t be able to resist this:

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Recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa At Home

The yogurt in this recipe makes it not quite authentically Italian, but it adds a nice tang without being sour. I used a little less yogurt than the recipe called for. She also serves it with balsamic strawberries on the side, recipe below. My recipe for the mixed berries and the raspberry sauce follows.

Panna Cotta


  • 1 packet (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin powder
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 3 cups heavy cream, divided
  • 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt (I used two 6-oz. containers of plain Greek yogurt)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1  vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Balsamic Strawberries

  • 4 pints (8 cups) sliced fresh strawberries
  • 5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated lemon zest, for serving


In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on 3 tablespoons of cold water. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to dissolve.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the cream, the yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 8 (6 to 8-ounce) ramekins or custard cups (or one large mold) and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar,  tablespoon sugar, and pepper 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving. Set aside at room temperature.

To serve, run a small knife around each dessert in the ramekin and dip the bottom of each ramekin quickly in a bowl of hot tap water. Invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate and surround the panna cotta with strawberries. Dust lightly with freshly grated lemon zest and serve.

Raspberry Sauce:
Boil together one 10- or 12-ounce package of frozen raspberries, 2 T. water and 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for about five minutes, then force through a strainer. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice and refrigerate.

Mixed Berries

Buy fresh mixed berries (I used 1 pt. raspberries, 1/2 pt. blackberries and 1/2 pt. blueberries) Mix with some sugar (about 1/2 cup), juice of one orange and the rind, zested. Stir and let sit for at least one hour.

Serve the mixed berries in the center of the panna cotta, or on the side if making individual ones, and surround with the raspberry sauce.



  1. Ottima presentazione per un dolce favoloso, complimenti.
    Ciao Daniela.

  2. lactose intolerant around here but I have made a soy version that was a hit! the shot of the vanilla bean is seductive!

  3. I have never made panna cotta.
    What am I waiting for?

  4. Ahhhh....I love panna cotta! Almond is my favorite flavor, but pure vanilla is a close second.

    I love your presentation, Linda! It would also be perfect as a Forth of July dessert!

  5. That looks spectacular...I would love some right this very minute!

  6. My fave dessert. Will have to try out your recipe!

  7. I love the vanilla beans floating in all that cream, (and yogurt).
    I just finished a salad....Boring!!!

  8. Oh so beautiful! I adore panna cotta and well - it has yoghurt in it - so I can justify....sort of... maybe....Wow that vanilla is gorgeous!

  9. I love panna cotta. The flecks of vanilla beans and the fruit look heavenly!

  10. I love the looks of your panna cotta. Those fresh berries are very inviting... Happy New Year!

  11. What a beautiful dessert, Linda. I love panna cotta, and your raspberry sauce and fresh fruit are perfect with it. This will be just the dessert for Valentine's Day.

    Happy New Year!

  12. Gorgeous! I just made panna cotta for the first time recently-don't know why I thought it was hard-I can't wait to make it again!

  13. Your Panna Cotta looks absolutely delicious! I love it.

  14. Nice Job! Yum Yum .... The vanilla packed with goodness!!

  15. I am pretty happy with any Ina recipe--I had the most amazing panna cotta our first night in Tuscany back in 2007-this might top that experience!

  16. This looks beautiful. I love the texture of panna cotta. Have ahappy new year!

  17. I have only made individual panna cottas but this looks absolutely gorgeous. The presentation is just breathtaking that I would almost hate to cut into it but I couldn't resist knowing how perfect it would taste.

  18. Those vanilla beans are striking...just had a hazelnut panna cotta the other day. I always forget how simple they are to make!

  19. isn't that just beautiful. i think even if I were lactose intolerant I'd be hard pressed not to have some

  20. This is, without a doubt, one of our very favorite light desserts. I make a raspberry coulis sauce, and we just love it! I smacked my forehead when I saw your presentation! Rather than ramekins, your dish looks spectacular. I am so going to try it your way, next time. I haven't done the yogurt thing, either, so I'll give Ina a whirl, since she's pretty much no fail.
    Hmmm, I have raspberry coulis sauce that I made, waiting for a vehicle.
    Happy New Year!

  21. That looks amazing in every way Linda... WOW!

  22. This is a great and easy dessert for those guys that want to cook for a date, etc. Impress the gals with a Panna Cotta...with Linda's recipe of course!