Panna cotta - the cream of the crop

There's a simple, yet luxurious pleasure to a creamy panna cotta. 
 
Desserts don't need to be elaborate. It's true that every so often a colossal creation can end a meal in style. Looking up at a croquembouche, with its cascading tower of profiteroles and caramel, is an impressive finale to a feast. Yet, most of the time, that isn't what I want after a big dinner. I still want something sweet and rich, but just a little taste of it. Few desserts are more perfect than a silky panna cotta.
 
The Italians may have invented panna cotta (its literal translation is cooked cream), but I think it was the Irish that perfected it. We have the best cream on the planet in this country. So a simple dish of sweetened, just-set cream is at its best right here at home.
 
When the cream is so good, I think a panna cotta needs nothing but the gelatine, a little sugar and perhaps a hint of vanilla. I'll sometimes change the spice, adding, perhaps, a little cinnamon instead of vanilla, depending on what was served for the rest of the meal.
 
While it does stray from pure panna cotta, I love using yoghurt instead of some of the cream. The result is less rich and has that characteristic yoghurt tang. It's just divine with cardamom, and especially if it is embellished with some ruby-red pomegranate seeds.
 
The amount that a panna cotta sets is crucial to its success. If it sets too little, it will collapse and seem like curdled cream, though it will still taste delicious. If it sets too much, your panna cotta will be rubbery and chewy. And, if you get it just right, a spoon will slide in to take a piece that will melt in your mouth.
 
I've carefully measured the quantities of these recipes and they have the correct ratio of gelatine to cream (or yoghurt or coconut milk). You should, of course, feel free to experiment with your own panna cotta recipes, just try and keep to the same ratios as I have here. Or, if it doesn't work out, just adjust and try again next time!
 

Panna cotta recipes: 

 
Rachel's tip
 
Don't throw away used vanilla pods. Dry them off and place them in a jar with some caster sugar. They will last for years and infuse the sugar with their gorgeous vanilla flavour. Vanilla sugar can then be used in so many desserts.
 
Rachel recommends
 
Jack Crotty, aka The Rocket Man, is a Ballymaloe-trained cook who has featured in this column before. His farmers' market stand with its gorgeous array of salads has been one of my favourite places to grab lunch whenever I'm shopping on market day. All his hard work at various farmers' markets has built The Rocket Man a loyal following and he has successfully launched a bricks-and-mortar salad and juice bar, The Rocket Man HQ, in the heart  of Cork city. The Rocket Man HQ sells the same divine salads as his stall,  as well as much more.

Shaneod Sep 15, 2014 News