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In the Kitchen With: Kristina’s Basil Panna Cotta

by Kristina Gill

Summer to me is tomatoes, basil, and “Magic” by the Cars. And lately, it’s also panna cotta – six ways to Sunday. I remember when I first got to Italy, back when the Lire still existed, and this dish “panna cotta,” or cooked cream, was on every menu. As the good calorie counter I was (at the time, a long, long time ago), I asked myself what on earth was panna cotta a nickname for and could anybody possibly be so cruel as to make a dessert solely out of cream? Guess what? It’s not a nickname, it’s literal. And yes, pure cream dessert exists, and it’s so good and so easy to make, it’s addictive. Countless variations exist for this very simple dish, varying not only the composition of the panna cotta (sour cream and cream, yogurt and cream, almond milk and cream, etc.) but also what’s added to it. Today’s recipe for basil panna cotta sticks to the very basic and very rich pure cream base. Like the vanilla rosemary pudding from last month, this is a delicately flavored dessert. The basil is not overpowering. Because it is so easy to make, I wholly encourage you to try it out with any number of herbs or extracts. I think as long as you like what you’re flavoring it with, you can’t go wrong. Of course just plain cream is also wonderful.  –Kristina

About Kristina:  I am the food and drinks editor here at Design*Sponge, and a freelance food and travel photographer. My photography has been featured  recently in VSCO Journal, Atlas Quarterly, and in the upcoming fifth issue of Need Supply’s Human Being Journal. When I’m not photographing or cooking, I’m singing along to American 80s music. Some of my favorite artists include just about everyone who sang a part on “We Are the World” (Steve Perry’s part is my favorite). I was given the nickname “Karaoke Kristina” in high school after a four-hour road trip during which my friends failed to find a single top-100 song that I couldn’t sing the words to. However, when I actually got on stage at a karaoke bar on Music Row and sang something by the Bee Gees, I bombed.

See how easy it is to make panna cotta after the jump!


Basil Panna Cotta

makes 4-6 servings depending on the size of your molds

  • 1.5 teaspoons of powdered gelatin (or two sheets if you have sheets)
  • 2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
  • 1 large handful of basil (leaves and stems), cleaned and patted dry
  • 1 inch-long (2.5cm) piece of vanilla bean
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (35g)


In two tablespoons of cold water, soak the powdered gelatin (or soak the sheets in a cup of water). While the gelatin soaks, scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into a small saucepan. (Discard the vanilla pod or let it dry out then add it to your sugar jar. After a few days you’ll have vanilla scented sugar.) Add the basil and sugar and heat the cream until it is very hot but does not reach a boil, stirring constantly to ensure the sugar dissolves, and breaking up the basil with your spoon (as though you were muddling). Add the gelatin (if you are using sheets, drain the water and squeeze the sheets) to the saucepan and stir until it has thoroughly dissolved.  Remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature. Either remove the large basil leaves with a fork, or strain the mixture as you transfer it to a container with a spout. Pour the mixture into molds which have been lightly oiled, or into small cups from which the panna cotta will be eaten. To avoid a “skin” from forming on the base of the panna cotta, cover with cling film and put in the refrigerator to set up for at least eight hours, or overnight.

A couple of notes on gelatin:  This level of powdered gelatin makes a panna cotta that is a bit firmer than Greek yogurt. You may use more gelatin if you prefer a firmer panna cotta, or if you need to do something that requires it keep its shape during handling.  (I used silicone molds to make these, which isn’t ideal for softer dishes – you can see where it got a little hard to unmold.) Because the strength and size of gelatin sheets varies, it is hard for me to say what your outcome will be with sheet gelatin, however, to make this recipe using sheet gelatin, I used two sheets of the Pane degli Angeli brand gelatin, which is “gold” quality. Each sheet is about 3″x4.75″ inches (7.75cm x 12cm). David Lebovitz wrote a very useful guide on using gelatin which may help you understand how to use the gelatin you have.



Why I love this recipe: It’s pure cream! That’s what I love! And I love the smooth texture, taste of basil and the vanilla, both of which are very delicate.  This is so easy to make, I wish I had never learned how!



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