I’ve always been somewhat of a food purist. I’m probably the only person over the age of five that actually prefers a plain cheese pizza to one with a zillion toppings. Pasta nirvana for me is a bowl of spaghetti with Marcella Hazan’s three ingredient tomato sauce. And, I take my vanilla ice cream straight up – no add-ins, thankyouverymuch. Actually, my very favorite ice cream flavor is fior di latte, which doesn’t even have vanilla in it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate more complex flavor combinations, because I do. But sometimes, I just like to savor the purity of really good ingredients, like fresh, local, organic cream from happy cows; or sweet and juicy, ripened by the sun, heirloom tomatoes. And, I love that soft tug against my teeth when I bite into a buttery, melting mass of fresh mozzarella that was made by real hands.
I like my panna cotta straight up as well. I also enjoy it flavored different ways. But to me, nothing says heaven more than a soft, pillowy cloud of simply sweetened, pristine creaminess, adorned by nothing more than a smattering of fresh berries. Oooh! I get goosebumps just thinking about it!
Panna Cotta is one of the easiest desserts to make. Yet, it is so elegant and luxurious, one would never guess. This basic “fior di Latte”, or “flower of milk” panna cotta recipe only contains three ingredients: cream or milk, sugar and gelatin. That’s it! And, you can whip up a batch in under fifteen minutes. If you want to jazz your panna cotta up a bit, you can add any number of different flavorings to the base, as well as a variety of toppings. I’ve tried it with everything from instant espresso powder to fruit purees. It’s all good. That’s why this recipe such a “must have” in anyone’s dessert repertoire. Its ease and versatility make it perfect for every occasion.
Today, I’m sharing panna cotta “di due fiori”, i.e. “with two flowers”. The first is the basic, unadulterated version, which can be topped with any kind of fresh fruit, gelée, or coulis. The second one is a panna cotta di fiori di arancia, which translates to orange flowers. Both recipes are identical, except that I’ve added some orange flower water to flavor the second one. Orange flower water is a popular ingredient in Italian desserts. It has a subtle floral quality, and is wonderfully fragrant. You can find orange flower water at most Italian or Middle Eastern markets, as well as online.
I’ve garnished my plain panna cotta here with fresh blueberries and the orange ones with some of the candied kumquats that I made last week. Candied orange peel would also be a good choice. Or, you could just leave it plain and revel in its silky creaminess and sublime simplicity.
Fior di Latte Panna Cotta
*Note: To make Panna Cotta di Fiori di Arancia, simply add 2 teaspoons of orange flower water to the cream base before combining it with the gelatin, and follow the rest of the recipe as written.
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons powdered gelatin
- 6 tablespoons cold water
- Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan until hot, but not simmering. Keep stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat. If you’re using any extra flavoring, now is the time to add it*.
- Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand for about 10 minutes.
- Pour the hot cream mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
- You can serve the panna cotta either in custard cups, pretty glasses or unmolded. If you plan to unmold the panna cotta, lightly coat the inside of the cups/molds with a neutral-tasting oil before pouring the mixture in, so they will slide out easily. Then, divide the panna cotta mixture into your cups, glasses or molds, and chill until firm, at least two hours.
- If unmolding, run a sharp knife around the edge of each panna cotta and unmold each onto a small plate. Garnish as desired.
Makes 6-8 servings, depending on the size of your cups.