Tuesday 5 February 2008

Recipe: Limoncello Panna Cotta

It's the time of year when Limoncello has a tendency to creep into many dishes in this household - Massimo's mother-in-law makes industrial quantities of it annually to be given away at Christmas, and although I like the flavour when used in cooking, I'm really not that fond of it as a drink. Although I do recall having some once at a small trattoria in Enna, in central Sicily, which was truly memorable: served at table in large glass jugs, it was a vivid green, industrial-strength, and with a kick like a mule. I was subsequently told that the colour suggested it was probably made from Citron rather than from Lemons, which might explain it's singular character!

Panna Cotta is an intriguing and rather wonderful thing. Intriguing because the name literally means 'cooked cream' - although in fact it often contains no cream, and in any event is set rather than cooked - and its relationship to Creme Caramel seems tantalisingly close, but nevertheless remains unexplained. And wonderful in the way that it manages to be both simple and light, and yet rich and complex all at the same time. Very simple to make, and easily dinner-partyable with the addition of a few fresh raspberries, or - even better- wild strawberries!

For six.

Ingredients: 6 oz Sugar; juice of half a Lemon; 15 fl oz double Cream; 5 fl oz Milk; 1 teaspoon of Vanilla Essence; 4 tablespoons of Limoncello; 1 tablespoon of powdered Gelatine.


1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees C, and leave 6 small (4 fl oz capacity) ramekins in the oven for five minutes to heat through.

2. Make a Caramel: Put 2.5 oz of the Sugar in a small saucepan, over medium heat, along with 3 tablespoons of water and the Lemon Juice. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring constantly. Watch as it turns first a light brown, and keep it on the heat, stirring until it turns to dark brown. At this point, remove the pan from the heat, and divide the caramel between the pre-heated ramekins. Holding them in a towel, carefully rotate them to coat as much of the inside of the ramekin as you can. Set the ramekins aside to cool.

3. Heat the Cream, Milk, Vanilla Essence, remaining Sugar, and Limoncello in a pan. Stirring all the time, bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and keep it at this level, stirring all the time, for a minute. Remove the pan from the heat, and leave to infuse for an hour.

4. Dissolve the Gelatine in 75 ml of warm water, and stir over low heat in a double boiler or simmertopf, to ensure it is properly dissolved. Stir this into the infused Milk/Cream , allow to sit for half an hour or so, stirring regularly to prevent the gelatine from separating, and then divide the mixture between the prepared ramekins.

5. Leave to set for a minimum of two hours, and up to one day. To serve, run the blade of a small knife carefully round the inside of the ramekins, and invert each one onto a serving dish. If you want to be sure of getting as much of the caramel out as you can - or if the panna cotta seems not to want to come out - dip the base of the ramekin in a shallow pan of very hot water for about ten seconds and then invert it onto the serving dish.

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