Prep: 15 min // Refrigerate: 2 hours
It's healthy because it eliminates heavy cream calories, nutritious because cream's substitute is Greek yoghurt and because icing sugar gives way to plant-based syrups or honey. This dessert is lighter than air, can be converted into a completely vegan version (by the use of plant-based yoghurt and milk) and can be topped with any type of jam or fruit pulp. In my version, I’ve used a fig sauce topping (jam-like consistency) as a serving suggestion that can be easily prepared to impress. Again, no sugar added in the fig sauce, just exploiting the sweetness of figs and merely topping it up with some natural sweetener. It goes without saying, you can eat as many of these without any guilt.
Pana cotta is an Italian dessert traditionally prepared by the use of heavy double cream, which we all love to consume (literally translating ‘cooked cream’), and icing sugar. It has a silky, jelly texture and is gooey at every bite. The classic version is scented with vanilla, but I’ve seen some interesting takes with a middle Eastern character like cardamom-infused or even with the use of rose or orange blossom water. I served the orange blossom water version with a matching Moroccan stew a couple of weeks ago and the combination completely blew our minds. In this version, I’ve used vanilla and substituted the cream with Greek yoghurt which has a great consistency for desserts, boosts your protein intake and cost less in calories.
The panna cotta preparation is fairly simple and quick and with only a handful of ingredients to gather. The most important ingredient is gelatine, to give this gel-like wobbly texture. Toppings are not necessary but I like anything from just pistachio nuts and fresh fruits to homemade (or store-bought) jam, to a quick fruit sauce as in my recipe below. In my version, I’ve used figs which are now nearly in their end of season (usually September to early October). Good ripe figs are served between end August-beginning of October timeframe in Greece as a lovely refreshing and simple dessert along with plain Greek yoghurt so even if you fail with panna cotta, serve your sauce with Greek yoghurt.
For the panna cotta:
4 ½ Gelatine sheets
250ml Low-fat milk
300g Low-fat Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp Agave nectar (or maple syrup)
½ Vanilla pod or vanilla bean powder (or try also with 1 tsp orange blossom water instead)
Some pistachios to decorate
For the Fig sauce:
6 big ripe figs (or 8 small)
2 tbsp honey or Agave nectar
1 tbsp Brandy or Port (optional)
Greek Yoghurt with Plant-based yoghurt. I would recommend substituting cow's milk with coconut milk and Greek yoghurt with any other plant-based yoghurt to completely convert this dessert into a vegan delight.
Figs with Strawberries. Feel free to play around with seasonal fruits.
Gelatine sheets with vegan substitute 'agar agar'. Gelatine sheets used in patisserie are usually animal products. Gelatine is actually animal collagen, derived by the boiling of bones. The plant-based substitute is called ‘agar-agar’ (no idea why) is derived by seaweed and usually comes into a pouch of powder (like this or this from Amazon). I haven’t used agar agar in the past so I cannot recommend any ratios, but with some online reading, you should be able to figure it out.
Vanilla pod with Blossomed water. Substitute vanilla with blossomed water for a middle Eastern take. Use 1 tsp of orange blossom or rose blossomed water instead of vanilla.
Place the gelatine in a bowl, cover with cold water and set aside.
If you use vanilla, scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod (don't know how? check this post), and add to a saucepan with milk and agave nectar. If you use orange blossom water, add it to the pan now.
Warm gently over low heat, and remove from heat just before the milk starts to boil (don't let it boil).
Toss in the gelatine sheets (after you’ve squeezed out any excess water from them) and the yoghurt and stir until everything completely combined.
Transfer the mixture into a jug (ideally, but not necessarily, through a fine sieve) or tip directly into your pudding moulds or ramekins.
Refrigerate for 2 hours at least (or overnight if you are making ahead) to allow the mixture to set.
Prepare the fig sauce: pour the water in a saucepan and bring in a boil. Then add honey, brandy and the figs. Cover and let them simmer in low heat for 15 min, stirring occasionally. When ready, press with a potato masher until they form a chunky compote.
To serve, turn each ramekin upside-down onto a serving plate. If the panna cotta won't drop out, dip the ramekin in a bowl of warm water to loosen it. Top with the fig sauce and some pistachios and serve cold.
Below are my favourite authentic products I used to cook and shoot this recipe. If you can't see the icons and links, please deactivate your ad-blocker and refresh the page :-)
Pan with pouring spout: This is a must-have in your kitchen. If you have kids, you'll appreciate how easy the milk is warmed up and poured through this magic spout. If not, you'll definitely appreciate it when you make soups (little portions), sauces or gravies as this little magic spout will direct your liquids to the direction you want (and not where the physics of the pan want).
Pestle and Mortar: An important accessory in a great range of tasks like crushing nuts, spices, herbs, making pastes like pesto or ginger and garlic for Asian dishes. I like this one because it's size is ideal (although it advertises as Large, it's not as big as these Asian Thai mortars and not as small as a spice-only mortar), feels solid and robust (hence stable in use) and is made of good heavy granite material (weighs around 2.5kg). Plus it looks great in my photos. And oh yeah, I left the best for the end: it is super easy to clean.