in partnership with Blue Diamond Almonds // photos by kristen kilpatrick
One of the best nights of my life started and ended with this panna cotta.
It was time for our cooking class at the villa we rented in Tuscany last month, and after pouring the Chianti and turning up the music, Giuseppina showed our group how to stir together just a handful of ingredients into one of the region’s signature desserts. As is the case with so many of the best things in life, this one’s all about time: it sat patiently in the fridge while we made pasta by hand, slathered pork loin with garlic and rosemary, learned how to fry sage leaves, then sat down to devour the entire feast. We almost forgot about our humble little custards chilling away in the kitchen, but boy am I glad that we didn’t. Keep reading to find out how I put a new spin on these once I got back home: since I prefer all my desserts with a little crunch, we teamed up with our friends at Blue Diamond Almonds to crown these panna cottas with the perfect finishing touch.
When a recipe calls for just a few ingredients, it’s important to use the best you can get your hands on. I used organic whole milk and cream and a fresh vanilla bean for making a custard that’s bursting with flavor. For our toppings, Blue Diamond Oven Roasted Sea Salt Almonds add a satisfying crunch and just the right amount of saltiness to complement the sweetness. And in-season strawberries are a must.
The result is a dessert that’s so much greater than the sum of its parts! The biggest lesson I learned from our Tuscany cooking class is that so often, the simplest recipes are the very best — especially when prepared with care and a passion for the ingredients.
Panna cotta was ubiquitous on Tuscany restaurant menus; it seemed that every chef had his own signature recipe (and I wanted to sample them all). Some were made with buttermilk or yogurt, but this “pure” version made with milk, cream, and sugar was my favorite. The basil added a surprising flavor burst that’s not to be missed!
I can’t wait to try out a variety of topping combinations to make this dessert seasonal at different times of the year. A few ideas:
- spring: diced mango, toasted coconut almonds, and shredded coconut
- fall: fresh figs, honey roasted almonds, and fresh basil
- winter: blood orange slices, roasted salted almonds, and rosemary
These are truly the perfect dinner party dessert, since they’re completely finished before guests arrive — you can even prep the custard the night before and top with almonds and strawberries just before serving.
Making these panna cottas transported me to that magical night in Italy. The aromas of the sweet strawberries mixed with fresh summer basil on my cutting board made me nostalgic for our Tuscan kitchen, but the beautiful thing about learning a new recipe in a new place is that you can recreate it any time, and instantly recall just how it felt to be there. Keep scrolling for the recipe, and I’d love to hear in the comments about your favorite food memories from traveling!
- 2 1/2 tsp. (1 package) unflavored gelatin
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
- 1 vanilla bean
- 4 cups sliced strawberries
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup Blue Diamond Oven Roasted Sea Salt Almonds, chopped
- 2 tablespoons basil, thinly sliced
- Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 of the milk in a bowl. Let stand for 2 minutes to soften the gelatin.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the rest of the milk, cream and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then using your knife, scrape the vanilla seeds into the cream. Heat, stirring occasionally, until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat and let cool briefly.
- Slowly add the warm milk to the gelatin mixture, whisking constantly until completely dissolved. Pour the mixture into four jars or ramekins, then cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
- Meanwhile, stir together the strawberries, zest and juice, and remaining tablespoon of sugar, and let macerate for at least an hour and up to 4 hours.
- When ready to serve, top the panna cotta with the macerating strawberries, chopped almonds, and basil. Buon appetito!