Cracking the Code of Panna Cotta

by Russ Parsons
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From the LA Times

pannacottaI've spent a good chunk of the last two weeks surrounded by spreadsheets, crumpled paper packets, cartons of dairy products and dirty ramekins. Josef Centeno has a lot to answer for.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped in at his Bäco Mercat restaurant downtown for a lunch that ended with one of the best panna cottas I've ever had. You know what I mean: Delicately sweet, it was like a dream of cream held together by faith and just a little bit of gelatin.

It struck me — how long had it been since I'd had panna cotta? A few years ago you couldn't go anywhere without seeing it. Then just as suddenly it went away. It makes no sense. A good panna cotta is as good as dessert gets. Vowing I would never again leave my panna cotta cravings to the whims of restaurant fashion, I determined to master the dish.

How hard could that be? There's not a lot to a panna cotta recipe. It's just dairy, sweetened and bound with gelatin. A bit of vanilla for flavor. That's basically it. Why, then, are some of them so wonderful and others so blah?

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