I enjoy the panna cotta. As you might already know, a month ago I attempted to make some from scratch, using a recipe from the hallowed Silver Spoon cookbook, aka Il Cucchiaio D’Argento, with which Italians have been making proper chow (ciao?) since the ’50s. Only thing is I failed. Why? Because I overthought it, and used an ancient egg-based recipe. Yesterday, retribution came, with a nudge from the Big Yellow Cookbook and a stinky packet of Knox gelatin. When you cheat, panna cotta è spigliata! Good thing everybody cheats, even restaurants.
There’s not a lot more to say, except that I followed the basic panna cotta recipe from Gourmet April 1997, also found in the Big Yellow Cookbook and on Epicurious.com, though you gotta wade through a lot of flavored PC recipes if you use the Epi iPhone app. I might point out that Silver Spoon does have a recipe for gelatin-based panna cotta, among its 4 or 5 PC recipes, but they talk about “leaves” of gelatin, and that just scares me.
Most (American) recipes are basically the same, a packet of Knox gelatin, about 3 cups of cream, enough sugar to sweeten things up, and some vanilla. You bring the cream to a boil, stir in sugar, then add the dissolved gelatin. Take care in this step to really get the powder dissolved, and disregard the disgusting odor it gives off during the dissolving stage–I was haunted by it, by the thought that this powder is I dunno ground-up horse hooves or something, but the smell went away almost immediately.
I recommend grating in some orange or tangerine zest, maybe using a real vanilla bean to jazz things up. You can even float things like cloves and cinnamon stick in there while you’re bringing the cream to a boil, then pull it out as you’re pouring it into ramekins. (My ramekins were too large, I think, though as you can see the custard popped out and kinda flattened, so the end result was fine–ideal even.) I went with straight vanilla extract this time around, but I did reduce some fresh-squeezed tangerine juice with a little sugar dissolved in as a syrup topping, which I think made all the difference. (Jenny begs to differ, but she’s just not as big a fruitivore as me.)
As long as you stick to the main ratios, you are free to do whatever you want. Besides flavorings and syrups, you can even make it in a glass with stuff at the bottom, or make it in a parfait with layers of God only knows. You won’t mess it up. Why? Because it’s basically milk Jell-O. But holy shit is milk Jell-O good.