2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin*
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups heavy cream**
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean (2-inches long and split lengthwise with a knife) or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh berries, gently washed, drained, and sweetened to taste***
6 sprigs fresh mint leaves
* It is always best to measure the the amount of gelatin needed as the envelopes of gelatin can vary. When a recipe calls for an envelope of gelatin, it is expecting a quarter of an ounce which is precisely 2 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin.
** Half and half, buttermilk, whole milk, and/or sour cream may be substituted for part of the cream. To reduce the fat in your Panna Cotta recipe, substitue 2 (6-ounce) containers low-fat or non-fat flavored yogurt. I like to use the yogurts with the fruit on the bottom of the container.
*** Any assortment of fresh, seasonal fruit may be served with panna cotta, but berries are especially nice. To use other ripe, soft fruits, such as cherries, peaches or apricots, just remove the stones and peels as necessary and cut them into thin slices or bite-size pieces.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup milk; let stand until the gelatin is softened, about 5 minutes.
In a large saucepan, combine heavy cream and sugar. Add vanilla extract or vanilla bean (your choice). If using a vanilla bean, slice the bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds into cream (add whole bean to cream for additional flavor). Bring cream just to a simmer (do not let it boil), whisking occasionally until sugar has completely dissolved; remove from heat and remove vanilla bean pod.
Add the softened gelatin mixture and whisk to completely dissolve the gelatin.
Strain hot cream mixture into a large glass measuring cup with a pouring spout; pour into ramekins or custard cups. NOTE: Do not skip the straining step as it removes any bits of undissolved gelatin and insures a nice smooth dessert. Also, do not let the cream mixture cool before straining. If using a vanilla bean, lightly swirl the cream to distribute the seeds evenly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Divided the panna cotta mixture among 4 (1/2-cup) ramekins or custard cups. Cover and chill 24 hours. Can be made two days ahead. Keep chilled.
To unmold and serve, carefully dip bottom of each ramekin in a baking pan of hot water briefly. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin to loosen it from the inside of the bowl. Wipe the outside of the mold dry and place on individual chilled serving plate (topside down). Invert the custard onto the plate and carefully lift off ramekin (shake gently to release).
Garnish with berries or fruit of your choice. See Topping Variations below.
Makes 4 to 6 servings (depending on size of the custard cups).
Topping Variation Ideas:
Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar
2 (1-pint) baskets strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Toss strawberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar, and pepper in a large bowl to combine. Let stand 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. Spoon strawberries over and around the panna cotta and serve.
3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup fresh or unthawed frozen cranberries
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
In a small saucepan simmer orange juice, fresh or frozen cranberries, and sugar, stirring occasionally, until cranberries are softened, about 7 minutes. In a blender, puree mixture until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Pour sauce through a sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids, and discard solids. Cool sauce. Sauce may be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Spoon Cranberry-Orange Sauce over and around the panna cotta and serve.
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon good-quality balsamic vinegar
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine water and sugar. Stir and cook until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a slow boil; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in balsamic vinegar.
In a food processor or blender, add blueberries and process until a chunky puree. Add blueberries puree into the hot syrup. Cover and refrigerator until ready to serve. When ready to serve, spoon Cranberry-Orange Sauce over and around the panna cotta and serve.