Panna cotta—the name literally means “cooked cream”—is a smooth, alabaster white, rich molded custard. After years of being unknown outside of its native Piedmont in northern Italy, panna cotta is turning up on restaurant menus all over this country. In its simplest form, it is sweetened heavy cream, flavored with lemon and vanilla and sometimes rum, set with gelatin (not baked) and unmolded in individual servings.
I first enjoyed this beautifully composed panna cotta as the conclusion to an unforgettable fall feast at the guest house of Livio Felluga, whose wines are among the best in Friuli, the region northeast of Venice. The custard’s gleaming surface was counterpointed by a warm poached pear half, sliced but still joined at the stem, both fruit and panna cotta perfumed by a heady syrup made with Merlot wine. This recipe is from Leda and Claudio Della Rovere, the brother and sister who own Ristorante Romea in nearby Manzano.
I’ve cut back on the fat of this custard a little; the proportions below are a happy compromise, clean but just rich enough. You can also serve panna cotta without the pears and syrup; just scatter a few berries alongside.