Panna cotta, pure & simple

Some of the seeming classics of Italian post-dinner cuisine — tiramisu’, torta caprese, limoncello, and panna cotta (lit. “cooked cream”) are in fact rather late, post 1980’s entries on the popular culinary scene. Renaissance folks didn’t eat them. Little Sofia Loren didn’t even eat them, but they are delicious.

Panna cotta is a flan pared to essentials: cream, sugar, gelatin, vanilla, a bit of water. But it’s lovely, can sit, in fact likes to sit a day or two in the refrigerator, bothering nobody. Dressed up with a berry sauce (spiked, if you like), it’s lovely. You can make it in five minutes, the sauce another five. Then go back to your whatever you’re doing (in my case, finishing chapter 10). So . . .

Panna Cotta (8 custard cups)

2 C heavy cream, 2 C half and half.
1/2 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 packets gelatin & 6 T cold water

Spray the inside of the cups with light oil if you are wanting to unmold the panna cotta for serving. Soften the gelatin in the cold water for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile heat the cream and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add vanilla. At that point, distressed by web comments of the panna cotta separating because the gelatin was put in too soon, I chilled the pan for 2 minutes by sitting it on ice. Not sure that’s necessary. Then whisk in the gelatin until the mixture is completely smooth. Divide in the cups. Cool to room temperature! Put the cups in the refrigerator. Recipes vary then, advising 4 to 10 hours of chilling. We tried at 10 and it was good, but very, very slightly grainy. The next evening even better. Unmold if you like. Dipping the cups briefly in hot water may help, and/or running a sharp knife around the edge but ours unmolded no problem. Add berry sauce. Enjoy yourself.

Berry sauce with Grand Marnier

I pkg. frozen raspberries or mixed berries
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. corn starch
bit of lemon juice, dash of Grand Marnier (or other orange liquer)

Heat the berries until bubbling with sugar. Thicken: put a bit of juice in a small bowl with the corn starch, mix until smooth, add back, bring to boil. Remove from heat, cool slightly, add lemon and Grand Marnier. Let sit until room temperature. You will be happy.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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