Envelope yourself in the creamy world of the Italian panna cotta

April 10, 2007 in cheese, cookbook, Food Porn, Paper Palate, pork, recipe, vegetable, Well Fed Network


(This post will appear on the [tag]Paper Palate[/tag] blog, a member of the [tag]Well Fed Network[/tag])


Panna Cotta cover image

Book review of [tag]Camilla V. Saulsbury[/tag]’s [tag]Panna Cotta: Italy’s Elegant Custard Made Easy[/tag]

I had never heard of [tag]panna cotta[/tag] before I saw it made on Iron Chef a few years ago. I obviously do not frequent many [tag]Italian[/tag] restaurants, mainly because I live in an Italian restaurant wasteland where white dinner rolls (you know, the kind that you buy at Stop and Shop ready to pop in the oven to “bake”) are served along with bologna antipastos (practically right out of the grocery store packaging). No, you can bet panna cotta will not be on any local menus.

Seeing it made on [tag]Iron Chef[/tag] is a very different thing than making it yourself. I actually never had a hankering for it until I agreed to review “Panna Cotta: Italy’s Elegant Custard Made Easy” by Camilla V. [tag]Saulsbury[/tag] and I am so glad that I decided to try a panna cotta on for size. I recommend this type of food and this cookbook in particular to both beginning cooks and the more experienced. You will not be disappointed.

First, let me tell you about the most fundamental lesson I learned from this book – panna cotta is extremely easy to make. You are essentially making a custard-like concoction without any [tag]egg[/tag]s. You do this by replacing their eggy magic with powdered [tag]gelatin[/tag].

The cover is fantastic, a raspberry vibrancy that sets off a poppy seed panna cotta to excellent effect. If you are visually cued like I am, you will be drawn in by the cover, [tag]seduce[/tag]d into exploring the [tag]panna[/tag] [tag]cotta[/tag].

In it’s mere 128 pages, this book packs in quite a lot of fantastic information about what panna cotta is (literally means [tag]cooked cream[/tag]), the fundamentals of making a panna cotta, and a treasury of [tag]recipe[/tag]s that will definitely inspire you to try a few out.

Just inside the front cover, the book has several pages of color photographs that depict some of the recipes. These are not as beautiful as the cover but they serve to illustrate the variety of panna cotta forms and presentation possibilities.

The introduction provides an excellent grounding in panna cotta [tag]First Principles[/tag]. Do not skip this chapter because it will give you the basic understanding of this eggless custard that you can then use to [tag]design[/tag] you own creations.

The recipes are organized into six chapters:

  • Top-10 Panna Cotta Favorites
  • Chocolate, Caramel, & Spice
  • Fruit Panna Cotta
  • Spirited Panna Cotta
  • Enlightened Panna Cotta
  • Savory Panna Cotta

In the “Top-10” chapter, you will find recipes like [tag]vanilla bean[/tag], [tag]PB&J[/tag], toasted coconut, cinnamon panna cotta and others.

Chapter Two has quite a few tempting recipes, such as mayan chocolate, pink [tag]peppercorn[/tag] (sweet!), cannoli, chai, and five-spice & honey panna cotta. There will certainly be a dessert there for everyone in your family.

Chapter Three explores the use of fruits such as mango, [tag]hachiya[/tag] [tag]persimmon[/tag], [tag]roasted pear[/tag], and even sweet [tag]pumpkin[/tag]!

As you might have expected, the “Spirited Panna Cotta” Chapter (Four) delves into recipes that use alcohol, recipes such as late harvest [tag]reisling[/tag], [tag]mint julep[/tag], [tag]limoncello[/tag] & mint, and even white chocolate amaretto panna cotta.

Chapter Five, “Enlightened Panna Cotta,” provides “lighter” versions with ingredients such as evaporated fat free milk and reduced fat sour cream in decadent sounding recipes like ricotta-honey, cafe brulot and linzer panna cotta.

In the final recipe chapter, “Savory Panna Cotta,” Saulsbury gives recipes for the panna cottas which I personally find the the most attractive. With recipes for butternut squash, [tag]porcini[/tag], [tag]asparagus[/tag], cauliflower and [tag]gorgonzola[/tag] panna cotta, you will impress friends and family with flavorful and unexpected appetizers that can really set the scene for a memorable dinner.

Saulsbury is able to, in a very small number of pages, put you on track to making your own panna cottas and encourages you to strike out on new paths, exploring your own part of the pana cotta universe. I found her writing encouraging to the uninitiated, namely me, and I soon found myself innovating a new recipe on my first time out of the panna cotta gate.

I would recommend this book to any of my friends and family and I look forward to trying out more of these recipes.

What follows is my first panna cotta, inspired by Saulsbury’s Thyme [tag]Goat Cheese[/tag] panna cotta. The family, from toddlers, pre-teens, to adults, all loved this savory [tag]appetizer[/tag].

(Copyright 2007 Nika Boyce)

Basil Ginger Goat Cheese Panna Cotta by Nika Boyce

(Inspired by Saulsbury’s own Thyme Goat Cheese Panna Cotta found on page 124)

Makes 12 or so mini panna cottas with some left over for the cook.

Instead of the many tempting sweet panna cottas featured in this book, I chose to make a savory one. Saulsbury has several very tempting recipes for savories such as summer corn panna cotta, asparagus panna cotta, avocado panna cotta and many more. I adapted her recipe for thyme goat cheese panna cotta because I didn’t have the exact same ingredients that she called for. Instead of heavy cream, I used half and half. Instead of thyme, I used basil. I also added ginger because I seem to want to add ginger to everything these days and I wanted to see how it would do in this setting. Ginger, for me, was a wonderful addition.


  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • ginger, small 1/8 inch thick slice that is not minced but left whole
  • several basil leaves, tear by hand into small pieces
  • 8 oz [tag]goat[/tag] [tag]cheese[/tag] [tag]chevre[/tag], cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/4 C half and half
  • 1/2 C sour cream
  • 2 slices hardwood smoked bacon, fried until crispy, allow to cool
  • 1/2 red delicious apple
  • 2 crimini mushrooms, medium size and sliced
  • 2 large [tag]basil[/tag] leaves for presentation
  • sea salt


Add the powdered gelatin to the 3 tablespoons of warm water and set aside to allow the water to be absorbed, at least 5 minutes.

In a heavy pot, bring the half and half, ginger slice, and basil leaves up to a simmer (over the lowest heat that will get you there), remove from the burner and add the gelatin. Mix until the gelatin is dissolved. Using a whisk, incorporate the goat cheese and then the sour cream.

I used a mini-muffin tin that I had coated with a good olive oil. I poured the panna cotta mix into this tin and then put it into the refrigerator overnight. Saulsbury suggests at least 4 hours.

I served this up two different ways. Not shown was how I had poured some of the excess mixture into a medium size baking cup. The next day I just stuck a spoon in to spread the panna cotta on matzos, very delicious and not fussy at all. The dry matzo and the rich panna cotta spread are a hit in this house now.

The photos show the second way I served this. I slowly fried some hardwood smoked bacon slices in a cast iron pan. I set those aside and sauted several apple slices and also diced apple and allowed them to drain and cool. I also lightly sauted some crimini slices. I assembled them, as show, with some basil leaves as the base, the panna cotta, a dribble of olive oil, a slice of apple (with the peel for color), a slice of mushroom, a bit of apple and bacon dice, and then long slices of the bacon for flair. The bacon, apple, and mushroom eaten with the panna cotta are a unctuous mix of savory, sweet, tart, and creaminess. Try to allow all garnishes to cool as hot items may just make your panna cotta melt.

(Copyright 2007 Nika Boyce)

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