Panna cotta: Easier than it sounds

June is National Dairy Month, which I celebrate heartily with my favorite dairy products, cheese and ice cream. Not being a big consumer of milk in the glass, I still buy quite a bit for my husband’s daily consumption. My favorite use for fluid milks has got to be panna cotta, that silky dessert that is a perfect accompaniment to – or platform for – any fruits in season. A custard-like pudding that is set with gelatin, panna (“cream”) cotta (“cooked”) is an easy Italian dessert that uses at least two forms of milk. The name alone makes it sound exotic; no one needs to know how easy it is to make. Here are three delicious options: a classic, one with a touch of savory, and a creamy-crunchy combo.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries

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This classic recipe from “The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook” makes 6 servings. Organic strawberries make the most flavorful topping.

1-1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

2 cups buttermilk

2/3 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup sugar

1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered

In the top of a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl, sprinkle gelatin evenly over 1 cup of the buttermilk; let stand about 5 minutes to soften. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring cream and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a boil. Whisk into gelatin mixture; place over a pan of simmering water and whisk until gelatin dissolves, 5 minutes. Stir in remaining buttermilk; pass mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth-lined strainer. Divide mixture among six 4-ounce ramekins or small bowls; transfer to a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. Sprinkle the strawberries with remaining sugar; let stand about 1 hour at room temperature. Unmold panna cottas by dipping the ramekins briefly into hot water and running the tip of a knife around the edges; invert onto serving plates and top with strawberries and their juice; serve immediately.

Honey-Rosemary Panna Cotta

I’ve had this sweet-savory recipe for many years and like to serve it with a late-harvest dessert wine. Put a little sprig of fresh rosemary on the side of each serving for a special touch. Makes 8 servings.

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup honey

3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 sprigs rosemary

Whisk together the 2 cups cream with the honey in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over whole milk; let stand 1 minute to soften. Bring the 1/2 cup cream to a boil in a small saucepan, add rosemary and reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved. Remove rosemary and whisk into honey mixture. Divide panna cotta into 8 ramekins. Chill, covered, until firm, at least 8 hours. To unmold, dip ramekins in a small bowl of hot water for 2 or 3 seconds, then invert panna cottas onto dessert plates and remove by gently inserting the tip of a knife around edges, if needed to loosen. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes to soften slightly. Garnish with seasonal fresh berries and serve.

Panna Cotta with Almond Caramel and Strawberries

This version is a more upscale presentation and correspondingly more effort but is quite impressive. I really like the contrast of the soft pudding and crunchy top. Instead of strawberries, feel free to substitute thin orange wedges or any seasonal berries. Recipe from “Mediterranean Country Cuisine” by Peter Buhrer; makes 8 servings.

Make Caramel:

3/4 cup sugar

3/8 cup butter

1/2 cup flaked almonds

In a small pan, slowly caramelize the sugar; stir in butter and almonds. Pour mixture into individual ramekins, which have been greased with butter; set aside.

Make Panna Cotta:

8 sheets gelatin

1 pint cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon dark rum

18 ounces fresh berries

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Butter for greasing pan

Soak gelatin in cold water. Meanwhile, combine cream, sugar, pulp from vanilla bean, and vanilla extract in a heavy-based pan; bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat; lightly squeeze out the gelatin and stir into the hot cream mixture. Add rum; stir until completely blended. Pass mixture through a fine sieve, pour into the ramekins over the caramel, and chill in refrigerator until set. When ready to serve, use a sharp knife to ease the panna cotta from sides of ramekins as you invert them onto serving plates. Garnish with berries or other fruit on the side and serve.