Another panna cotta recipe? Really?
As well ask, Does the world need another saxophone riff? Another short story? Another poem? Of course it does. Look, if you’re filleting fugu or sautéing false morels (not advised), you want a recipe nazi with hairy calves and an I summitted K2 without O2 tattoo. But panna cotta? Ah, no. Panna cotta is a melody that invites riffing, if only because sometimes no matter how wonderful the last iteration, the simple tune of cooked cream cries out for variation, a what if . . . and because sometimes things just don’t work the way the recipe says they should, so you need to improvise. That’s how we ended up with Goat’s Milk Panna Cotta with Star Anise and Grape Compote.
We intended this post to be a straightforward duplication of a great dessert that we learned from Puglian chef Rocco Cartia, who worked with Jody during our recent trip to Southern Italy. Panna cotta, simple as can be, with a subtle little nudge from star anise. But, as sometimes happens, the magical thing you experience in a one part of the world doesn’t fare quite so well in translation. Blame it on the local cream, the USDA approach to pasteurization, or the Trilateral Commission, but what happens in Puglia, alas, sometimes stays in Puglia. Back home, our panna cotta tasted flat, and felt a bit too sturdy in the mouth. Great panna cotta is at least fifty-percent about the texture; it should quiver. Rocco’s panna cotta was like unmolded silken tofu–and ours was closer to the semi-firm variety.
So Jody tweaked. First, the texture–she reduced the amount of gelatin, then reduced it again–until the panna cotta held together, but just barely, the way we like it. Next, in order to duplicate some of the natural tang of Italian dairy she tried substituting buttermilk for some of the cow’s milk. not bad, but not as good as we remembered. Then, in a moment of inspiration, she tried the same experiment, but used goat’s milk, which left an ambrosial memory of creamy tartness on the tongue. Hubbah-hubbah–that was more like it! Finally–and this was really a minor adjustment–what to do about the plum compote, since plum season has passed? After briefly considering fresh currants (moot, since grocery stores didn’t have any) we settled on grapes.
Is it Puglian? No, but it’s a great expression of what we’ve got right here, right now. And until our next trip to Puglia, that’s about as close to Rocco as we’re going to get. And, yes, it quivers. Enjoy. Ken
Chef Rocco Cartia with Jody
Goat’s Milk Panna Cotta with Star Anise and Grape Compote
Adapted from a recipe by Rocco Cartia
Makes 6 servings.
- 1¼ teaspoons powdered gelatin
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup goat’s milk or buttermilk
- ½ cup whole cow’s milk
- 1½ ounces confectioner’s sugar (about 1/3 cup)
- 2 star anise, smashed into individual points
- 1 pinch salt
- Put 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it soften for a few minutes.
- Whisk together the heavy cream and goat’s milk in a large bowl.
- Pour the cow’s milk into a small saucepan, add the confectioner’s sugar and star anise and place over medium heat. Stir once or twice and remove from the heat as soon as bubbles form around the edge. Add a pinch of salt. Allow to steep 20 minutes.
- Return the cow’s milk to the stove to bring it up just to a simmer, then remove from the heat. Add the gelatin and stir until it’s fully dissolved. Whisk the cow’s milk and gelatin mixture into the combined cream and goat’s milk. Blend until smooth. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a 2-cup measuring cup. Pour it into 6 espresso cups or 5-ounce containers. Let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
- To unmold, put the cups into a bowl of warm water to reach ¾ up the sides and let sit 2-3 minutes. Using your fingers, gently pull the edges of the panna cotta away from the sides of the cups. Turn the cup upside down on a plate with one edge up about ½ inch. Wait patiently for the pannacotta to fall out.
- ½ cup honey
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 star anise
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
- 1 pound grapes, cut into ¼-inch slices
- Combine the honey, wine, star anise and ginger in a pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes until really thick. Add the grapes and cook 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. The grapes should be in a thick syrup. If the syrup is too thin, remove the grapes and reduce the syrup until thick. Add the grapes back. Allow to cool before serving.
Imagine this: you’re in a foreign country where the people speak another language; you’re thrown into an unfamiliar kitchen with an accomplished native chef you’ve never met before. Your challenge is to teach a cooking class to 16 adults who are already having a fine time chatting and drinking wine. Not just a few things can go wrong–everything can go wrong.
Puglian Chef Rocco Cartia was good sport. We not only managed to communicate and agree on most things in the kitchen, we were able to push, prod and cajole our students to produce 3 exceptional meals. We shared recipes, tricks, philosophy and a lot of laughs. His panna cotta recipe with star anise was indeed one of the stars in a week of great food. I hope he approves of the addition of the goat’s milk.
For a closer look at any of the images in this post, simply click on one of the thumbnails below.