Panna cotta – my favourite Italian dessert

I have always loved panna cotta. Always loved, but also was afraid to cook, thinking it’s probably a lot of work and mess in the kitchen. How wrong I was… During my journey to Tuscany, one of the best trips I had, I was lucky to take a cooking class in the “In Tavola” school in Florence. Little I knew about the dishes I will learn before I came in, but wow – here it was – panna cotta with strawberry coulis! Spoiler – one of the easiest dishes to make!

So, it is really that simple… Every panna cotta, as complicated as it may seem, always starts with the same basic mixture.

  • 200 ml heavy cream (35% fat minimum)
  • 40 ml milk
  • 30 g (a bit over 1 oz) sugar
  • 4 g (0.15 oz) gelatine powder (if using gelatine leaves – that’s about 6 leaves, soaked in water for 10 min and then squeezed)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1/4 tsp vanilla paste)

Step I – pour the cream into a saucepan, add sugar and vanilla and set on a medium heat. The critical thing about this step is not to let the mixture boil. You will need to heat it gently, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is just about to boil.

Step II – while the cream is cooking, pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine powder on top. Let it sit and soak for about the time it’ll take the cream to reach the correct temperature.

Step III – remove the cream from the heat, add the soaked gelatine, all of it – scrape the bowl if needed. Return the saucepan to the low heat and whisk until all the gelatine is dissolved. This step is also critical – to make the cream set, gelatine has to dissolve completely, leaving no lumps or chunks.

Step IV – pour the mixture into the serving cups or forms and let sit in the refrigerator until set, about 3-4 hours. Do not try to freeze – it’ll ruin the whole texture.

Serving the panna cotta can have countless variations. The presentation I’ve chosen for the photo – strawberry coulis, adds an extra layer of taste, and obviously the looks to the dessert, making it a perfect one for a romantic dinner grand finale! Valentine’s Day is around the corner – guys, here’s your chance to score an easy one with your date 😉.

We will need:

  • 280 g (10 oz) fresh strawberries
  • 140 g (5 oz) sugar

Place the strawberries in a large microwave safe bowl, together with the sugar. I would suggest to leave one strawberry per serving for the garnish, as you can see in the photo.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poking one or two small holes with a skewer, and microwave for about 15 minutes. The holes are needed to prevent the plastic wrap from popping. Be very careful when taking the bowl out and opening it – there will be very hot air trapped under that wrap, and it may cause quite nasty burns.

What you have in that bowl is a great strawberry jam! So, strain the syrup and put the berries in the jar – they will go great with your toasted bread and butter 😄. The syrup, however, you will need to split between your serving cups and freeze for about 2 hours at the very least – it’s got to become fully frozen. Otherwise, when you will start pouring a hot cream mixture, it’ll mix together and will not look as sexy as it should.

Once frozen, take the serving cups out of the freezer and gently pour the panna cotta mixture over the frozen syrup.

Refrigerate for about 3-4 hours until the panna cotta is set. Garnish with a fresh strawberry and serve!

Another way to serve the panna cotta is with dark or white chocolate shavings on top – I have taken this idea from a YouTube clip where Chef Gordon Ramsay was presenting his panna cotta. All we need is to freeze the chocolate bar and then scrape it with the blade of a knife. Also, this specific version I’ve made with a splash of vanilla and honey flavoured Fiji rum.

You could also get away with just putting a praline on top!

As I said, the only limit is your imagination – let it run wild and enjoy!

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