Back in the days of my Bachelor Girl apartment, I read one of those “step outside your box!” articles and decided to give “sleep naked!” a try. My bedroom was three floors over the parking lot, so there was no reason to break out my giant martini glass and work up a Burlesque routine. Nope. I just shimmied out of my clothes, hopped into bed and waited to greet the morning.
Only the morning greeted me first.
I woke up to a row of construction workers standing on the roof of the building across from mine, looking down through my blinds at my naked-naked self.
However, I still believe that trying new things is always a win-win situation. If all goes well, you’ve added something new to your repertoire. And if something goes awry, you’ve got a great story. Either way, you become an even more fascinating person. So, here’s a new experience for you: making panna cotta.
It’s the most amazing stuff. A cold Italian dessert that’s rich, creamy and luscious. Perfect for when you want just a few bites of something sweet, especially after a heavy meal. And it’s as easy to make as pudding from a box.
“Panna cotta” literally means “cooked cream,” and you start the recipe by simmering half-and-half and sugar in a large saucepan until it reaches a boil. Then, stir in a tablespoon of dissolved gelatin and vanilla, ladle the mixture into ramekins or wine glasses, and let it chill until it sets. The finished texture will probably remind you of a slightly firm pudding or a loose creme brulee (minus the egg yolks, water bath and torch).
The panna cotta will be infused with vanilla flavor, which makes it the ideal companion for something more adventurous. Here, you’ll find a recipe for a simple blackberry sauce, but you could also pair your panna cotta with mixed berries, hot fudge or caramel sauce, strawberries soaked in balsamic vinegar and pepper, blood oranges – almost any fresh fruit, compote, jam, syrup, sauce or preserve.
If you’re feeling especially experimental, replace the vanilla in the panna cotta recipe with two teaspoons of something you love. Orange blossom honey. Almond extract. Maybe a liqueur, like Frangelico or Grand Marnier. Citrus juice and a little zest for color. Lemon verbena or matcha.
Have fun experimenting! And if you decide to cook naked, always check the rooftops.
Panna Cotta with Blackberry Sauce
Adapted from Catherine Newman (“O Magazine,”July 2008)
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)
- 3 cups half-and-half (or whole milk or heavy cream)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries (or cherries) , plus more for garnish (optional)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- Sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons cold water in a small saucepan; let stand a minute to soften. Heat on low, stirring, until gelatin dissolves, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
- In a large saucepan, bring half-and-half and 1/3 cup sugar just to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Remove from heat; stir in gelatin (it may need to be scraped off pan with a spatula) and vanilla. Ladle into 8 (1/2-cup) ramekins (lightly oiled or greased with nonstick spray) or glasses; cool to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.
- To Make the Fruit Sauce: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat cook the berries and 2/3 cup sugar, stirring occasionally, until berries release their liquid and begin to break down, about 20 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender, strain, and chill for 1 hour.
- Serve panna cotta in ramekins or on plates: To loosen, dip each ramekin in a bowl of hot water for 3 or 4 seconds, run a knife around the edges, then invert onto a plate. Spoon fruit sauce on top and garnish with extra berries (if using).