Patty collects recipes and researches food history. She enjoys sharing her findings with her online readers.
What Is Panna Cotta?
Panna cotta, meaning "cooked cream," is a traditional Italian dessert that has a cargo van full of names, including:
- Pannacotta (one word)
- Italian custard
- Italian egg custard (even though many varieties do not contain any eggs)
- Italian pudding
The dessert is made with heavy cream, sugar, gelatin, and an individual's choice of toppings. It is often created as a creamy vanilla base, with sauces spooned on top.
Some panna cottas are also made with cinnamon or caramel and topped with other sauces to add a wider palette of flavors. The key ingredient in all of the variations of the dessert is good quality cream. Thus it becomes like a creamy, more sophisticated, and more fully flavorful version of American Jell-O.
Topping options include caramel, chocolate, and fruit sauces; shaved or broken dark chocolate; powdered cinnamon or ginger; and many types of preserves. You might experiment with your own ingredients and invent something new!
Origins in Italy
"The key ingredient in all of the variations of the dessert is good quality cream."
Panna cotta originated in the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont, which includes the city of Turin. Turin is famous for the Shroud of Turin as well as for hosting the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. In addition, religious pilgrims traveling from Canterbury to Rome passed through this region, particularly through the Valley of Abbeys.
On the borders of France and Switzerland, the Piedmont region was not a popular tourist destination until after 1970. Since then, it has become a center that now attracts those in search of gourmet dining. About two dozen festivals are held in the region, including the White Truffle Festival in Alba.
Basic Panacotta Ingredients
Simple Panna Cotta
Yield: 6 servings
Cook time: 20 minutes
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 whole vanilla bean
- 2 ounces granulated sugar
- 1 envelope Knox, kosher, or any other brand of good, unflavored gelatin
- 1/4 cup cold water
- Caramel, fruit, or chocolate syrup; shaved chocolate, broken peanut brittle, raisins, craisins (dried cranberries), fresh fruit slices, nuts, or any topping that you like!
- Dissolve gelatin in water.
- Pour the whipping cream into a saucepan.
- Take 1 vanilla bean, cut it open, and scrape it out into the saucepan. Then add the whole bean.
- Add sugar and mix.
- Heat the mixture over moderate heat (do not oil) and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove pan from the heat and remove vanilla bean with tongs and discard.
- Stir the mixture consistently while gradually dissolving the gelatin/water into the hot whipping cream.
- Pour the mixture into pudding cups or ramekins that have been rinsed out with cold water to chill.
- Put cups in the coldest part of the refrigerate until set, or overnight.
- When ready to serve, turn the pannacotta upside down onto serving plates and place topping over each one.
Strawberry Balsamic Panna Cotta
Yield: 6 servings
For the panna cotta:
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin, such as Knox, a good store brand, or a kosher variety
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 1/4 cups yogurt (plain, vanilla, or strawberry)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sugar
For the strawberry preparation:
- 1 quart strawberries, stems removed, berries washed and sliced
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper (this provides a slight bite to the topping)
- Pour 2 tablespoons water into a bowl and sprinkle gelatin over top. Allow to stand until soft (15 minutes).
- Mix 1 cup cream, yogurt, and vanilla in a larger bowl.
- Heat and stir another 1 cup cream and 1/2 cup sugar in small pan over medium heat until sugar dissolves and cream begins to just bubble around the edges.
- Quickly remove from heat and pour into the gelatin mixture, stirring well to dissolve gelatin.
- Pour this hot mixture into the yogurt mixture in the bowl.
- Pour 1/2 cup batter each into 6 ramekins, tart shells, or custard cups.
- Refrigerate cups uncovered until cold (overnight is good).
- Before serving, toss strawberries (sliced), vinegar, sugar, and pepper in a bowl and permit to stand to marinate for 30 minutes.
- Spoon strawberries over panna cotta and enjoy.
Kiwi Panna Cotta
© 2008 Patty Inglish MS
mary jean tenoso on April 01, 2012:
I really like panacotta the soft texture of this dessert i madly in love.. I want to try making it for my own i want to make sure this would be perfect. thanks a lot for a recipe.
apricotmousse on January 04, 2010:
I love to put fresh fruits on top of pannacotta. Yummy :)
Jerilee Wei from United States on December 26, 2008:
We had some in Italy and now thanks to you I know how to make it. Can't wait to try it out. Thanks!
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 24, 2008:
I hope you all have a great Christmas and enjoy this dessert. You can use pineable as well, and I find it delicious.
Research Analyst on December 24, 2008:
Panacotta with Coconut and Mango, looks so good, wow what a treat, I will have to try this one. I am such a fan of fruit. Thanks
Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on December 24, 2008:
I have never had this, but it looks delicious. I'll have to try it.