I love partying with Italians. They know how to do it right! The music! The vino! The laughter! The vino! And, of course, the food!
And after having the great good luck of living and eating in Italy for 7 years, I have come to love cooking and baking Italian, and my 2 Italians – Simon and Clément – are sure to love whatever I do make. Easy. Facile!
And now I have been invited to a virtual party – Una Festa Italiana – hosted by our Italian-American Hostesses with the Mostess, my friend Maryann of Finding la Dolce Vita and her friend Marie of Proud Italian Cook, two food blogs truly worth the visit for all lovers of Italian cooking and baking.
This is their 2nd Annual Festa Italiana. Maryann has already made her Struffoli and is setting the table while Marie is preparing a huge pan of Country-Style Rigatoni. Yummy! Bellissimo! Non posso aspettare!
I have decided to make – and bring – Panna Cotta. Easy, you say. Maybe, but JP loves Panna Cotta. Ever since we discovered it in Italy, it has become his absolute favorite dessert. Whenever he sees it on a menu, he is sure to order it. So the expectations are high and that has always made me just a little bit nervous. Divento molta agitata – and that’s when accidents happen. Well, take a deep breath and andiamo!
Two tries. It only took me two tries! And my Cigarettes Russes au Chocolat turned into, thanks to just a little baker’s ingenuity (read: panic) Lingue di Gatto al Cioccolato.
PANNA COTTA AL CIOCCOLATO (Crema di cioccolato)
From Laura Zavan’s book panna cotta
1 cup (250 ml) whole fresh cream
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
4.2 oz (125 g) good quality dark chocolate (I used Lindt dessert 70%)
1 ½ Tbs vanilla flan powder *
Break or chop the chocolate into pieces.
In a medium-sized heavy-bottom pot over low heat, gently heat the cream and the milk together until just warm. Whisk in the flan powder and continue to heat, and whisk, the liquid gently until it just comes to the boil. Remove from the heat.
Add the chopped chocolate to the hot cream/milk and stir with a wooden spoon or whisk until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Pour the cream into your prepared glasses or ramekins.
Cover with plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or, preferably, over night, until set.
* I did not end up with panna cotta, but a luscious chocolate cream, cold, smooth and very chocolate-y. I think if I try this recipe again, I’ll add up to 2 tablespoons vanilla flan powder and when it comes to the boil, I’ll let it simmer gently for a few minutes to cook the flan. And hopefully this will cause the cream to set into a firmer panna cotta.
PANNA COTTA ALLA VANIGLIA
From Mark Bitten’s New York Times on-line blog bitten.blogs.nytimes.com
Truly fool-proof (not saying I’m a fool or anything….)
3 cups (750 ml) cream, or 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) cream and 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) half-and-half *
2 tsps (1 package,1/4 ounce, about 8 g)) unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or to taste) or 1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
* I used 1 cup (250 ml) each heavy cream, light cream and whole milk
Put 1 cup cream in a medium-sized, heavy-bottom saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it; let sit for 5 minutes. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring, until gelatin dissolves completely.
If using vanilla extract, add remaining cream or cream and milk and sugar to gelatin mixture and heat gently, just until sugar dissolves; add vanilla. This should take a few minutes. (If using vanilla bean, cut it in two, lengthwise. Scrape out seeds; add seeds and bean pod to pot, along with the sugar and remaining cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until steam arises. Turn off heat, cover, and let steep for 15 to 30 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean before pouring into glasses.)
Pour mixture into 4 large or 6 small custard cups, pretty serving glasses or ramekins. Chill until set, at least 4 hours or up to, preferably, over night. Serve in cups or glasses, or dip ramekins in hot water for about 10 seconds, then invert onto plates. Serve within 24 hours.
These set perfectly! The panna cotta was smooth, light (yes!) and so creamy and just the perfect sweetness.
I tried different ways of decorating, from a squiggle of melted chocolate, sprinkled with beautiful violet sugar and topped with a candied violet and mimosa, and even dotted with tiny pink hearts saved over from Valentine’s Day.
And Mr. Panna Cotta Lover himself came home for lunch today. For dessert, I handed him a Vanilla Panna Cotta and a spoon. And watched. And waited. First mouthful. Second. “Well?” No answer, just another mouthful. And a third. Then “Extraordinary! Excellent! Perfect!”
And I served them with these Lingue di Gatto al cioccolato (don’t tell Marty!)
LINGUE DI GATTO which began life as Cigarettes Russes but never made it
From Chocolat by Felicity Barnum-Bobb and translated by Marabout
1 egg white
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
2 Tbs flour
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs fresh heavy cream
1 ¾ Tbs (25 g) unsweetened butter, melted
5 oz (150 g) good quality dark chocolate (I used Lindt dessert 70%)
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C) – although after the first round I lowered the temperature to 400°F (200°C) to bake the rest.
Whisk or beat the egg white together with the sugar until thick and foamy.
Add the flour, the cocoa powder, the cream and the melted butter. Whisk to blend well until smooth and creamy.
Line baking/cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Plop 4 or 5 teaspoonfuls of the batter on the parchment-lined sheet, spacing them well apart.
With the back of a clean table- or soupspoon, smear and spread the batter out flat into a long “tongue” as evenly as possible.
Pop into the preheated oven and bake for 4 minutes or until the cookies just start to brown around the edges.
Remove from the oven and carefully slide a spatula under the cookies to loosen and lift them off the paper and onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
I realized later that my big problem was that I spread the batter out too thinly, thus when I tried to roll a flattened cookie around the handle of a wooden spoon to make cigarettes, they dried and crumbled. The cookies came out delicate and flavorful, really delicious, so I will try the recipe again. When I do, I’ll spread them into thicker circles and, as soon as they are removed from the oven, roll them quickly around the wooden spoon handles to form cigarettes.