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"This is the easiest treat in the world,” says Natasha, who made a classic panna cotta. “I’ve never seen a complicated dessert menu in Italy,” adds Massi. The cool and decadent dolce displays a smooth texture similar to flan or crème caramel. And Natasha likes that the basic dish of cooked and set cream, sugar, and vanilla can be adjusted to suit any tastes. “Try adding espresso to the cream, sprinkling it with cocoa, or topping it with rhubarb compote,” she suggests, though the Sarrocchis typically keep it simple with an assortment of fresh berries. In the end, stresses the chef, good Italian cooking—really any good cooking—comes down to the ingredients you use. “They may be fewer, but choose better ones, and you can’t go wrong.”

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Ingredients

  • 1 (1/4 oz.) envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 2 Tbs. cold water 
  • 2 cups heavy cream 
  • 1 cup half-and-half 
  • 1/3 cup sugar 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 
  • 1 cup assorted fresh berries

Directions

In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand about one minute to soften. Heat gelatin over low heat until dissolved. Remove pan from heat. 

In a large saucepan over moderately high heat, bring cream, half-and-half, and sugar just to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat and stir in gelatin and vanilla. Divide cream mixture among eight half-cup ramekins and cool to room temperature. 

Refrigerate, covered, at least four hours or overnight. 

Panna cotta may be served in ramekin. To serve on a plate, dip each ramekin into a bowl of hot water for three seconds, taking care not to get cream wet, then run a thin knife around inner edge of each ramekin and invert panna cotta onto small plate. Serve with berries.

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