Pure Silk, Pure Delicious, Pure Heaven

Associated with the Piedmont region of Italy, Panna Cotta is a lot easier to make than it sounds. Comprised of rich cream and sugar, the only tricky part about making Panna Cotta, is the correct handling of the gelatin, which it contains. When properly utilized, multifunctional gelatin works like magic to turn liquid dishes into glorious mousses, souffles and parfaits. Vegetables become sculpted salads and fruits, jam and jellies. Gelatin not only gives food enough structure and stability to be shaped, but also contributes to their unsurpassed, melt-in-your mouth texture. From "How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food," author Mark Bittman's impeccable Panna Cotta is the perfect example of just what gelatin can do for a recipe when everything goes right. Bittman's velvety smooth, silky Panna Cotta molds beautifully and has the quintessential smoothness of a flawlessly made cream-based custard. If your previous experiences with gelatin fell short of this result, Bittman's method of allowing the cooked custard to steep for 15 to 30 minutes after preparation will surely eliminate those worries. This tip alone may be the difference between a seamless Panna Cotta and one that falls flat of expectations. For more invaluable pointers (and recipes) like these, including information on Bittman's cookbooks (perhaps a good gift for the upcoming Father's Day holiday), visit the author's website at www.howtocookeverything.com

Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at kitchenade@yahoo.com.

Panna Cotta

Recipe courtesy "How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food," by Mark Bittman (www.howtocookeverything.com);
illustrations by Alan Witschonke. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., publishers (2008), www.wiley.com.

3 cups cream, or 1 1/2 cups cream and 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 package (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or to taste) or 1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar

1. Put 1 cup cream in a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over it; let sit for 5 minutes. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring, until gelatin dissolves completely.
2. If using vanilla extract, add remaining cream and sugar to gelatin mixture and heat gently, just until sugar dissolves; add vanilla and proceed to Step 3. If using vanilla bean, cut it in two, lengthwise. Scrape out seeds; add seeds and bean pod to pot, along with the sugar and remaining cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until steam arises. Turn off heat, cover, and let steep for 15 to 30 minutes.
3. Remove vanilla bean, if you used it. Pour mixture into 4 large or 6 small custard cups. Chill until set, about 4 hours. Serve in cups, or dip cups in hot water for about 10 seconds, then invert onto plates. Serve within 24 hours.

Mark Bittman's Panna Cotta Variations

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Substitute 1 1/2 cups buttermilk for half the cream. Use all buttermilk in Step 1. Proceed with the recipe.

Almond "Panna" Cotta (with almond milk)
Almond milk replaces the cream: Substitute almond milk for the cream, almond extract for the vanilla and 2 teaspoons agar for the gelatin, if you like. In Step 2, use the directions for the vanilla extract. Proceed with the recipe.  

Tembleque (with coconut milk)
A Caribbean dessert made with coconut milk: Substitute coconut milk for the cream. Dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 cup coconut milk (as directed in Step 1), combine it with the remainder of the coconut milk, and skip to Step 3. Garnish the unmolded custards with a dusting of ground cinnamon just before serving.

Karo(R) Raspberry Sauce

So Easy!
Recipe Source: Karo(R), Ach Food Companies, Inc. (www.karosyrup.com)
1 (10-ounce) box Birds Eye Deluxe Whole Red Raspberries in Syrup
1/2 cup Karo Light Syrup
Puree raspberries in blender, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove seeds. Makes about 1 1/4 cups sauce.


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