This panna cotta is like eating vanilla ice cream. Although panna cotta translates as "cooked cream," in fact, you heat the heavy cream only long enough to dissolve the sugar and a little gelatin. To bring the dessert to the consistency it achieves with the super-thick cream of the Piedmont region’s dairy country where it was born, I stir in sour cream before pouring it into small molds for chilling. Chefs often dress up panna cotta with complicated sauces. I like it on its own, or the way it’s eaten in homes, with fresh fruit -- cherries when they come into season, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, and pears.
The boiled-down juice of fresh-pressed wine grapes, an old-country substitute for sugar, sometimes sauces panna cotta. Find imported Saba from Modena in some fancy food stores. Balsamic vinegar isn’t a Piemontese tradition, but the thick liqueur-like, artisan-made balsamic (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio-Emilia) is fabulous over panna cotta.
Cook to Cook: Use organic cream if possible and be sure the sour cream contains only cream and culture, no other additives. This recipe unmolds with a soft, creamy finish. For a firmer panna cotta, increase the gelatin to 1 3/4 teaspoons.
Reprinted from The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy’s Farmhouse Kitchens, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
Darra Goldstein is editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, an 888-page reference guide to all things sweet. "The book is really a compendium of human desires, a cultural history of desire for things that are sweet and what it has caused in the world, in both the realm of pleasure and also of pain," she says.