If we were to pick an Italian dessert that doesn’t get nearly enough love, we’d say it’s classic Italian panna cotta.
As we’ve discussed before, panna cotta is one of the most classic Italian desserts out there. It comes from the Northwestern region of Piedmont where it’s one of the most iconic recipes.
It’s said that the recipe dates back to the early 1900s when a woman in the town of Cuneo first made the recipe. These days the dish is so associated with this corner of Italy that the Region of Piedmont has it on its list of local traditional foods.
You’ll often find the panna cotta original recipe made with a touch of rum or marsala but without any garnish. We prefer to make this super easy version and add any sauces once we serve it.
How To Make Panna Cotta
At its most classic, the basic panna cotta mixture is simply heavy cream that gets simmered with sugar and vanilla then whisked together with gelatin. If you’re searching for an easy panna cotta recipe it must be said that the dessert is inherently easy to make.
But that doesn’t mean all versions of the dessert are created equal. The key to making the best panna cotta is to get quality ingredients and to follow a few tips:
- Use Vanilla Bean Over Vanilla Extract: This is a classic vanilla panna cotta recipe and the main flavor is vanilla. As such we’d suggest you use a real vanilla bean or vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract as it will bring a more intense flavor and add those signature black vanilla bean specks.
- Whisk In The Gelatin Well: The gelatin will become a clump as it sits but that’s ok — just make sure that you whisk it into the warm cream well before you pour it into the prepared molds. And, FYI, most gelatin is not vegetarian so you’ll want to seek out vegetarian gelatin if that is a concern.
- Give It Adequate Time To Set: You’ll want to let the panna cotta sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before you serve it. If you’re wondering how far ahead can you make panna cotta, it can be made up to five days in advance — just keep it refrigerated until you plan to eat it.
- Serve It As Is Or With Toppings: The panna cotta is delicious as is but you can also add a variety of sauces or toppings. We like it with melted chocolate, a spoonful of caramel, or even a berry coulis, with fresh berries tossed in honey, or even with a sprinkling of chopped nuts.
- Unmold It Before Serving: You’ll sometimes find panna cotta served in small cups or bowls and other times placed in a larger mold. While you can serve it directly in the small ramekins, most of the time is served out of the mold.
To get it out, you’ll want to dip the container in hot water then run a knife around the inside perimeter of the container. Then place a serving plate on top of the mold, flip it over, and tap on the mold until the panna cotta comes out. If you want to be 100% sure that you can get the panna cotta out of the mold, be sure to coat it with a touch of neutral oil before you pour the panna cotta mixture inside.
Is Panna Cotta A Custard?
Almost every time we make this dessert, someone either calls it custard or asks if it’s just Italian crème brûlée. While crème brûlée is a custard or a cooked mixture of milk or cream with eggs and sugar, panna cotta is made without eggs and is instead held together with gelatin.
So, panna cotta is a creamy, dairy dessert but it is not made with eggs and therefore is not a custard and is not related to crème brûlée. Got it? Good!
What Wine Goes With Panna Cotta?
When it comes to wine pairing, sweet dessert wines go best with sweet desserts. And, as you’ve heard us say time and again, what grows together goes together. This classic dessert from Piedmont is delicious with dessert wines from the same Italian region.
If you top the panna cotta with berries as we’ve done here, it’s a natural pairing with the sweet, low-alcohol wines made with the Brachetto grape, like the various wine cocktails made by Luca Bosio. This recipe was shared with us by chef Pietro Visconti from Milan.
PIN IT FOR LATER
Okay, now it’s time to stock up your pantry with all the Italian essential ingredients, then try your hand at making this.
Want to remember this for a later date? Pin it to your Pinterest account. And, as always, share your creations with us by tagging @saltandwind and #swsociety on social!
Classic Italian Panna Cotta Recipe
- 2 cups cold heavy cream
- 1/4 ounce Unflavored gelatin powder (about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 teaspoons)
- 1 whole vanilla bean
split in half lengthwise and seeds scraped out
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- pinch kosher salt
- Fresh strawberries
- Dissolve The Gelatin: Place 1/4 cup of water in a small shallow bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Set it aside while you cook the cream. If you want to unmold the panna cotta to serve it, go ahead and coat whatever serving mold you decide to use (a ramekin or a metal tin or a fluted bowl) with a bit of cooking spray or a very thin layer of neutral oil (say avocado oil).
- Simmer The Cream: Meanwhile, combine the cream, sugar, vanilla bean, vanilla seeds, and the salt in a small saucepan. Warm the mixture over medium heat until the mixture simmers and stir until sugar is dissolved for about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin mix, and whisk well until the gelatin is evenly mixed into the cream.
- Fill Panna Cotta Molds: Fill four ramekins or small dishes with about 1/2 cup of the base (or one larger mold with all the cream mixture). Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until mixture is set and jiggles slightly when moved, about 5 hours or overnight.
- Serve The Panna Cotta: You can serve the panna cotta in the ramekins or molds or you can unmold it. To unmold the panna cotta, dip the mold bottoms or small dishes in very hot water. Run a knife around the Panna cotta's perimeter, cover with a serving plate, and flip to unmold the panna cotta. Garnish with sliced fresh strawberries and/or a drizzle of honey, melted chocolate, or even a berry puree.