Tuesday, August 20, 2013
The phrase ‘peaches and cream’ always sounds so delicious. Sweet slices of fresh peaches, floating in a bowl of heavy cream. But in reality, when I do have delicious summer peaches, and decide to serve them sliced at the end of a meal for dessert, the last thing I would consider doing is pouring cream over them. Because that is just so not an Italian thing to do.
A bit of sugar and lemon, or maybe some wine or grappa. But cream? Never.
Italians just don’t use heavy cream that often. And in fact, until the last few years, it wasn’t even that easy to find it in stores.
There is one way, though, that cream comes into desserts: panna cotta. Cooked cream.
Panna cotta is basically jello, but with cream instead of fruit flavored water and sugar. Heavy cream and sugar are heated gently and then you add gelatin and let cool. Simple as that.
So last week when Domenico came home with three cases of peaches (his new project is being the house jam master) I stole six and made an Italian version of peaches and cream.
First I cooked the pealed peaches with a bit of sugar and lemon, just long enough so that they fell apart. After they cooled down, I pushed them through a sieve and had peach sauce (a.k.a. peach coulis)
Panna cotta is usually made with pure cream, but I decided to make a half-hearted effort to lighten things up a bit and used an equal portion of almond milk. Not only did it make it a bit lighter, the almond flavor paired perfectly with the peachy topping.
This is a very summery version, but I’ve also topped almond panna cotta with chocolate sauce, which of course is fantastic. And the same company that makes this incredibly decadent sweetened Almond milk also makes a Pistacchio version that is as delicious as it is hard to find. Pistacchio Panna cotta drizzled with anything is as obscenely good as it sounds.
But since it’s summer, and the fruit is at its peak, I’m sticking with the almond version, and playing around with raspberries, plums and anything else that looks good. And everyone seems to be happy with that.
almond panna cotta with peach coulis
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups sweetened almond milk
1 tsp almond extract
2 1/2 sheets gelatin
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar*
*The amount of sugar will depend on whether or not you use pre sweetened almond milk. I’ve done it with this delicious version by Conderelli which is basically like eating candy, and also with a healthier non sweetened version. With the non sweetened version you definitely have to add sugar, up to a half cup. I’ve also made it with artificial sweetener, for friends who had sugar issues.
Soak gelatin leaves in warm water for 10 minutes.
In the meantime gently heat one cup of the cream, and add sugar if you are using.
Take the gelatin out of water, squeeze it and add it to the still warm cream, stirring with a fork to dissolve well. Add the rest of the cream, almond milk and almond extract. Stir well and divide into individual molds. Place in refrigerator until set.
6 very ripe peaches
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Peal the peaches and cut into pieces. As you cut them, put them in a bowl with lemon juice. Top with sugar, stir and let sit for a hour or so, to let the juices start to run. Gently heat over low flame,and let cook until the peaches have fallen apart. Let cool, blend, and then run through a fine sieve if you are feeling fancy and want to make it extra smooth.
To serve take each little mold and hold it bottom down in a cup of hot water for thirty seconds. Then invert onto plate. The panna cotta should slip out. Spoon sauce over, or around, and if you’d like, decorate with berries.
I also like to serve panna cotta in pretty espresso cups, and just keep them in the cups, with some sauce on top.
Note: I am in Italy, and so use gelatin sheets. I find 2 1/2 sheets work well. But sometimes I use a bit less, for a softer set, especially if I am keeping it in the cups. You might like it firmer. It’s up to you, play around a bit with whatever gelatin you are using.