Love is being present. Love is being aware of living small unique unrepeatable moments that give colour, flavour and fragrance to your life, that make it different – and better – from all the other possible lives that you could have had if you had not paid attention to that imperceptible gesture, to that look, to that smile.
In the last days I’ve been paying attention to those small moments, not just in my relationship with Tommaso, but in my daily life. In the evening we snuggle on the sofa to watch a legal drama – we’re now catching up on all The Good Wife episodes – and it feels like the perfect end of a tiring day in the kitchen. We laugh simultaneously at a joke and his eyes light up. I catch of glimpse of sun on the marble kitchen table in the morning and it feels already like spring. I slice my first porchetta and the skin crackles underneath my knife and I feel it has been cooked to perfection. I dip a spoon in a panna cotta and the world smiles with me.
The result is that I am grateful for every single morning when I wake up early and tiptoe to the kitchen to open the window to a calm countryside. I feel blessed by sharing life and work projects with my better half. I have a job that I adore, so even if in the evening sometimes I feel like a whole herd had walked over me, I have the chance to learn and be excited by new assignments.
In one of those mindful moments I realized I had to make panna cotta and I decided to learn to make the perfect one, to save the recipe here on my blog for you and for my future cravings. I enjoyed the whole process: pouring cream into a saucepan, scraping vanilla seeds with a sharp knife, smelling my fingers with closed eyes to inhale the heady vanilla aroma, melting sugar and swirling the pan to make a caramel, carefully stashing the panna cotta in the fridge, waiting faithfully to the next day.
Pay attention to your gestures in the kitchen and you’ll enhance the pleasure of cooking, as well as improve the final results.
Panna cotta with orange caramel sauce
Read a menu in any Italian trattoria, osteria or even posh restaurant and nine time out of ten you will find panna cotta among the desserts. I can be on a diet, or I could have had a plush meal, but I’ll always be tempted to order a panna cotta, foretasting the silky texture, charmed by the milky white pudding gracefully wobbling when the waiter comes towards me, holding it in a small saucer.
Sadly, I am ofter disappointed. Too rubbery, too thick, sickly. Not to mention when the panna cotta is clearly a store bought – unmoulded – blanketed with sauce jelly pudding.
Be lucky enough to find a panna cotta made by the book and your meal will be uplifted to a higher level. I am sold when I spot black vanilla seeds spoiling the virginal white of the panna cotta. The moment when I finally dip my spoon into the panna cotta is a moment of truth. It must be slightly resistant and then surrender in a luscious heaven.
Learning to make panna cotta is an ace up your sleeve, as it is a blank canvas where you can paint according to seasons and preferences: drape it with chocolate sauce or salted caramel, serve it with tangy fresh red berries, flavour it with coffee, rose syrup or orange water. Bear in mind, though, as the Oxford Companion to Food notes, that “if a flavouring is used, it should be delicate“.
This is the recipe I came to after several trials, which could be the highlight of your Valentine’s Day menu, either you are sharing it with your loved one or – lucky you – enjoying it all by yourself spoon after spoon.
Panna cotta with caramel sauce
- Ingredients for panna cotta
- 500 ml 2 cups - 16,9 fl oz fresh cream
- 100 ml 3,4 fl oz of fresh whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- 50 g 1/4 cup of sugar
- 15 g of gelatin sheets*
- Ingredients for the caramel sauce
- 70 g 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons of orange juice
- Soak the gelatin sheet in a bowl with cold water for about 10 minutes.
- Pour cream and milk in a saucepan, add sugar and vanilla seeds scraped with a knife. Warm cream and milk until they begin to simmer, then remove from the heat.
- Wring gently the gelatin to remove excess water and dissolve it into the saucepan.
- Prepare the caramel sauce now. Add the sugar in a small pan and melt it on medium heat without stirring until golden. Swirl the pan to melt the sugar. Pour in the orange juice and stir thoroughly.
- Spoon the caramel into six glasses, if you want to serve the panna cotta as it is, or into six ramekins or moulds - I found silicone moulds are perfect for panna cotta - if you want to unmould the panna cotta and serve it with the caramel on top.
- Pour now the cream over the caramel sauce and leave in the fridge until the next day.
- To unmould the panna cotta pass a knife on the edges and gently tip the bottom of your mould.
- An interesting read by David Lebovitz on how to use gelatin.
- Felicity Cloake on the Guardian on how to cook perfect panna cotta, testing different recipes. Panna cotta is such a simple dish that both the flavour and the texture have to be spot on – there really is nowhere for the cook to hide with this one. Once you’ve cracked it, though, it’s the perfect make-ahead stuff for those (few) occasions when Angel Delight just won’t cut the mustard.
- Why panna cotta is the perfect dessert, by The Kitchn. Panna cotta can always be the right dessert — whether you’re throwing a fancy party or a small one, have lots of time or no time, are gluten-free, dairy-free, allergy-prone, vegan, or simply craving a delicious and creamy sweet. It’s perfect.