Panna Cotta is a romantic sounding Italian dessert meaning "cooked cream." A traditional Italian dessert, it can be spiced in many ways and dressed up with fresh, macerated or pickled fruit. Modern cooks use gelatin to achieve a solid creamy product. Similar to cooked flans and custards, panna cotta is far easier to make and can sit overnight in the refrigerator just waiting for breakfast.
Seen on restaurant menus as a dessert course with fresh fruit, panna cotta is coming into its own for many applications. One Bay area restaurant serves a cream cheese panna cotta with a blueberry compote and a dusting of graham crackers for a simple take on cheesecake for dessert. Other restaurants offer rosemary or sage flavored panna cotta with various fruit garnishes. Emeril Lagasse of the Food Network developed a nice lemony panna cotta recipe with fresh blueberry sauce. To say panna cotta is trendy is an understatement.
Here at the B Street House Bed and Breakfast in historic Virginia City our three-course breakfasts always feature a fresh fruit item for guests. One standout is lavender panna cotta with sauteed fresh white peaches. It sounds much more difficult than it is.
Lavender was supposed to have been a favorite of Queen Victoria. She is said to have had a lavender flavored food at every meal. So it just feels right that lavender is included on the menu at a Victorian B&B.
Lavender can be purchased at most large grocery stores, but I have found the special culinary mix put together by lavender farmers to have a robust flavor. When they mix several types of culinary lavender for a complex flavor, it easily becomes the star of the dish.
Our panna cotta and peach dish features the cold creamy panna cotta with warm peaches. Not too sweet, the panna cotta has a little tang from processed Greek yoghurt. Use a yoghurt cheese maker to reduce the volume of full-milk plain Greek yoghurt so that it is thick. You should be able to scoop it in a small ice cream scoop and not have it loose its shape. Although called yoghurt cheese, it is not cheesy.
For this recipe try silicon muffin molds to hold the panna cotta. It is very easy to unmold because the silicon is flexible.
Lavender Panna Cotta with Sauteed
1⁄4 cup hot water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup half and half
1⁄4 cup heavy whipping cream
1⁄3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dried
1⁄4 cup plain Mediterranean or Greek style yoghurt cheese (processed to reduce the
Sprinkle gelatin over hot water and set aside. In a medium saucepan combine half and half, cream, sugar and crushed lavender. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and stir until mixture is hot. Remove from stove and let the mixture steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine sieve and discard lavender. If a finer mixture is desired, sieve through several layers of cheese cloth. Some small pieces of lavender will remain in the panna cotta. Bring mixture to simmer again on stove and add gelatin mixture, stirring constantly until gelatin is completely melted and incorporated into cream mixture. Remove from heat and whisk yoghurt into cream mixture. Pour into small heart-shaped or star-shaped molds (each holding about 1⁄2 cup) and place in refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.
A few minutes before serving, unplate panna cotta onto a small dessert plate. Refrigerate the panna cotta while preparing the fruit.
Sauteed White Peaches:
In a medium saute pan melt 2 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar.
Toss 3 cups peeled, sliced, fresh white peaches with 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice to keep peaches from turning brown. Saute peaches in butter brown sugar mixture until just warm.
Using a slotted spoon, remove peaches from saute pan and place them decoratively on plate next to panna cotta. Garnish with fresh berries. Serves four.
• Carolyn Eichin owns B Street House Bed and Breakfast in Virginia City