Old-world panna cotta is experiencing a renaissance these days, and for good reason. This no-bake, gluten-free dessert is a giggly blank canvas for seasonal flavors and embellishments, from rhubarb compote to gingerbread crumbles. Sounds fancy, but panna cotta is really just barely-sweetened Jell-O made with cream (or milk or Greek yogurt) instead of water. Since it must be made ahead (in order to set up in the fridge), panna cotta perfect for entertaining. Busy restaurants love it for this reason as well.
Back in 1999, when I was voted one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs, I began experimenting with all kinds of different flavorings, shapes and toppings for panna cotta.
We made white and red striated panna cotta, flavored with bacon fat and sliced into strips. Red wine panna cotta served in wine goblets was popular, as was the blue cheese panna cotta served in a wedge, alongside shaved iceberg lettuce. (The BLT version we tried was less successful.) One of my favorites was this sunny-side up panna cotta. Try it for an April Fool’s dessert tonight!
Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta “Eggs”
(Vanilla-infused Greek yogurt panna cotta with an apricot yolk)
Makes 6 servings.
Adapted from Food & Wine, November 2006 ( “Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Honey-Glazed Apricots”, from Kate Neumann)
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 cup heavy cream, half & half or milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- ½ vanilla bean or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups (one 16-ounce tub) plain Greek yogurt
- 1 can apricot halves
In a small saucepan, bring the cream or milk, sugar and vanilla bean to a simmer. (If using vanilla extract, add later with the yogurt.)
Remove pan from heat. Stir in the gelatin until melted.
For April Fool’s “eggs”:
Pour the mixture into large saucers or soup bowls and refrigerate until set (at least 2 hours). Use small plates in between bowls to stack in the fridge, if necessary.
To unmold, run a paring knife around the edges. Fill a large bowl with a few inches of hot water. Submerge the bottom 1” of the panna cotta bowls in the hot water for a few seconds to loosen.
Cover bowl with a serving plate and invert to unmold. (Tap, giggle or loosen further with a paring knife if necessary.) The more “unperfect” the unmolding, the more realistic the eggs will look.
Easy, fun and delicious!
For any-day panna cotta:
Pour mixture into 6 (4-oz) ramekins and refrigerate until set. Follow same method above to unmold onto serving plates, or simply serve in ramekins. Drizzle with honey, sliced strawberries, toasted almonds or pistachios, etc. if desired.