Panna cotta – a simple Italian dessert
Last weekend when we had friends over for dinner, I served yoghurt panna cotta with finger limes in little ramekins for dessert. Panna cotta means cooked cream in Italian. Technically, the cream is heated rather than cooked, just enough to dissolve the gelatine.
The dish originates from the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy. In fact, the first time I made panna cotta was in Italy, at a cooking class some years ago in a farmhouse in Tuscany. Food always tasted better when you’re on holidays, don’t you think?
I love this simple dessert for its silky, velvety texture and its delicate flavour. With just a few ingredients, yoghurt panna cotta is quick to make, and it can be made a day or two ahead of serving. Gelatine is used to set the cream and give it its custard-like consistency.
There are plenty of vegetarian alternatives to gelatine (which I’m yet to try) that can be used to make panna cotta, however they may alter its consistency. From my reading, both cornflour and agar agar are popular substitutions.
The cream can be infused with different flavours, and it can be decorated with any number of toppings. I picked up some finger limes from my local market recently, and I thought they’d look pretty as a garnish for this dessert, together with baby mint leaves from my herb garden and pomegranate arils.
Finger limes (Citrus australasica), are native to Australia, specifically to the rainforests in south-east QLD and northern NSW. Finger limes traditionally grew in the wild, but with European colonization, deforestation for settlements and farming almost destroyed the entire species. Some finger lime varieties survived on farmland and private property, and these trees are the source for the commercial trees used in production today.
There are more than twenty varieties of finger limes in Australia. When you cut into them, you can see miniscule beads of red, orange or green, depending on the variety. The aroma of these green finger limes reminds me a little of kaffir lime leaves. Just push the citrus beads out using your thumb.
I’ve found myself using finger limes a lot in my recipes, such as this burrata with finger limes and native pepper berries. They’re also delicious served with seafood dishes, or drinks such as soda water, gin and tonic.
Experimenting with different flavours
Try experimenting with different flavours in your yoghurt panna cotta. Lavender, orange blossom water, coffee and chocolate work well. When using lavender flowers, use just a few, about 1/2 teaspoon. I like to strain the yoghurt cream though a sieve to remove the lavender flowers.
Alternatively, you can serve the panna cotta with fresh berries. It’s also delicious with poached rhubarb. Or, drizzle it chocolate or caramel sauce.
Remember that the key to a good yoghurt panna cotta is the quality of the ingredients, so always try to use the freshest cream possible.
More simple dessert recipes
When I’m having friends for dinner, if I’ve gone to the trouble of preparing a main dish with lots of sides, I find I’ve run out of energy to make a fancy dessert. That’s why I like simple desserts, such as the yoghurt panna cotta, which can be made ahead.
PS: If you’ve tried this yoghurt panna cotta with finger limes, or any other recipe from At Amanda’s Table, please let me know how it turned out in the comments below. And, if you’d like to read more, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter for stories, recipes and tips for simple, nutritious meals.
Yoghurt Panna Cotta with Finger Limes
- 1 1/2 cups Greek yoghurt
- 1 1/2 cups cream
- 3 sheets gelatine
- 1/4 cup honey
- finger limes, mint leaves, pomegranate arils to garnish
- Soak the gelatine sheets in a shallow bowl of cold water for about 5 minutes.
- Whisk half of the cream with the yohghurt in a bowl and set aside.
- While the gelatine is soaking, heat half of the cream in a small saucepan. Whisk in the honey until it is incorporated into the cream.
- Squeeze the water from the gelatine sheets and whisk into the honey yoghurt mixture. Keep whisking until the gelatin has completely melted.
- Whisk the warm cream into the cream yoghurt mixture.
- Ladle the mixture into 1/2 cup capacity ramekins.
- Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours until set.
- Garnish with finger lime pulp, pomegranater arils and baby mint leaves before serving.