Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberry Sauce is an elegant looking dessert that is almost effortless to prepare. With a few simple ingredients, you can make this popular northern Italian dolce at home. It is a perfect ending to a meal when entertaining guests as it can be prepared early in the day or even a day or two before a party.
Panna cotta has become the darling in restaurants all over the world. Chefs love serving this Italian specialty because it can be infused with fruits, herbs, and spices to create their own unique dish. It can be prepared in molds and then turned out or served in beautiful glass containers. When entertaining, this is definitely a dessert that can impress your dinner guests if you want to get creative.
I like to entertain simply as I find that you can get overwhelmed with last minute details, especially if something doesn’t go right. I prepared my panna cotta early in the day and poured it into vintage Moonstone Opalescent dessert cups that were placed in the refrigerator to chill. I then made a quick balsamic strawberry sauce and poured it in a small decorative pitcher that also went into the refrigerator. The entire dessert didn’t take 30 minutes.
I took the panna cotta and sauce out of the refrigerator twenty minutes before serving to warm up a little. At serving time, I drizzled a little sauce over the panna cotta, placed the cups on saucers with fresh strawberries and served them to our guests with the pitcher of extra sauce on the side. It doesn’t get simpler than that.
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 pkg. of Knox gelatin powder (1/4 oz.)
- 1/4 c. milk plus an additional 1/4 c. milk
- 2 c. heavy cream
- 1/2 c. powdered (icing) sugar
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. lemon extract (optional)
Place 1/4 cup of milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it and let soften for about 10 minutes. Place the remaining 1/4 cup of milk and heavy cream into a pot and add the sugar, stirring well. Simmer over low heat until the mixture just starts to get small bubbles around the edge. Add the softened gelatin to the mixture and stir until the gelatin dissolves. (Do not let the mixture boil.) Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a container with a pouring spout. Stir in the vanilla and lemon extract.
Pour into small cups* and refrigerate for at least four hours. (If making the day before, once the mixture has gotten firm place a piece of plastic on top so that a thick skin doesn’t form.)
*If you plan to unmold the panna cotta, run cold water on the inside of the molds, rinse but do not dry. A thin film of non flavored oil can be wiped on the inside of the molds instead, which will also help when unmolding. To unmold, dip the container into hot water for a few seconds and then run a knife around the edge.
Balsamic Strawberry Sauce
- 1 c. sliced strawberries
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Place all the ingredients in a small pan and bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook for ten minutes. Mash the strawberries a little if necessary and then pour through a fine sieve, mashing with the back of a spoon to extract all the sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve. May be prepared a day ahead.
Panna cotta, which literally means cooked cream, may remind you of crème brûlée but is easier to prepare as no eggs are involved. This cool and silky pudding is a wonderful way to finish a meal…rich but still light enough to enjoy, especially when topped with the balsamic strawberry sauce.
Note: I have prepared this dessert a couple of times, experimenting with the cream. I found using all heavy cream is delicious but rich. I tried using all half and half (which is a product of half cream and half milk that is 10% to 18% butter fat where heavy cream is 36% butterfat) but the texture and taste wasn’t as nice. I think a mixture of heavy cream and some milk works. Other cooks have substituted part of the cream with buttermilk, sour cream and even yogurt. Experiment and see which version you like the most.