Panna Cotta: What Is This Mysterious, Gelatinous Dessert?

Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta. Source:  Emilie Hardman

Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta. Source: Emilie Hardman

Panna Cotta. This beautiful Italian dessert always leaves me wanting more. Every time I see this dessert on the menu, I almost always order it. It's like Christmas morning... in your mouth. It's light, tasty, and refreshing. It's like creamy jello. And, everyone loves jello. The more I look at the word "jello" the more it looks like I'm spelling it wrong. But that's okay. 

As always, the goal of this post is to learn one or two new things about the dessert. To start, let's look into the history behind this dish. Panna Cotta has a creepy history because nobody really knows how or when this dessert was first made. Generally, people believe that the dish originated in Piedmont, (Northern) Italy though it has never been confirmed. There are theories that the first version of the dish was eaten with cream and fruit. Later recipes were extended to include the use of gelatin to give the dish a jello-like texture. Sadly, it will always be a big mystery... like the Mayans... or aliens... or women. 


Panna Cotta means "Cooked Cream" in Italian, which makes sense because it is cooked cream. Most Panna Cotta recipes involve the mixing of cream, milk, sugar, and gelatin over heat. When the ingredients are completely blended together, the mixture is poured into individual cups, bowls, or ramekins. Then, they are placed in the refrigerator for a few hours to set. Once chilled and finished, the Panna Cotta can be decorated with fresh fruit, spices, or sauce.

The dish is great because you can tailor the taste to your preference. You can change the flavor of the Panna Cotta itself. You can garnish the dessert with whatever sauce or fruit you like. You can even choose to make the Panna Cotta light and soft by using more milk or rich and thick by using more cream. 

Panna Cotta, Strawberries, Orange. Source:  Mrsjpvan2

Panna Cotta, Strawberries, Orange. Source: Mrsjpvan2

If you want to try making Panna Cotta, check out the recipes below:

  1. Epicurious, Original: Link

  2. All Recipes, Original: Link

  3. C&Z, Black Sesame: Link

  4. Manus Menu, Salted Caramel: Link

  5. Food and Wine, Rose: Link

  6. Food Network, Original: Link

If you want to try Panna Cotta in the city, here are some places that serve the dessert:

  1. ChikaLicious Dessert Bar: Brown Sugar Panna Cotta with Pink Grapefruit Sorbet and Toasted Pistachio

  2. Babbo: Saffron Panna Cotta with Black Plums, Anise Hyssop, and Saffron Shortbread

  3. Birreria: Vanilla Panna Cotta with Caramel, Streussel, and Powdered Sugar

  4. Ai Fiori: Panna Cotta with Caramel Crema, Candied Cocoa Nib, and Dark Chocolate Granita

  5. David Burke Fabrick: Green Apple Panna Cotta with Caramel Gelee and Cinnamon Meringue

My list of restaurants that serve Panna Cotta is limited. There are a ton of places that serve this dish. I just picked a few that sound super delicious.