This is a special Italian dessert that literally means "cooked milk." I heard the name somewhere and looked it up. All that was left to happen was for my curiosity to induce me to make it myself--which didn't take long! It is best served with berries, or a light fruit/liqour sauce. 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.
- *Half & half, buttermilk, whole milk, and/or sour cream may be substituted for part of the cream.
- 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.
- *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: Don't skip the straining step as it removes any bits of undissolved gelatin and insures a nice smooth dessert. Also, don't 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.
- *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 (or muffin cups) (shake gently to release).