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This literally means "cooked cream," which doesn't begin to communicate what this is about. Yes, it's another of those desserts that you should eat only occasionally. But it's that aspect of it that heightens its already ambrosial quality.
4 sheets gelatin (3 x 4 1/2 inches each, 1/4 ounce total) OR 2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) powdered unflavored gelatin
1 quart (32 ounces) heavy cream
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 quart (4 cups) fresh strawberries
2 to 6 tablespoons sugar*
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar*
*Use the greater or lesser amount of sugar depending on the sweetness of the berries, and the quality of the balsamic vinegar. Use the lesser amount of sugar if you're using a very high quality aged balsamic vinegar; “supermarket” balsamic isn't as syrupy or mellow as aged, so you'll need to use more sugar.
In a saucepan with a heavy bottom, combine 2 cups of the cream, the sugar, and the vanilla bean, which you've split down the middle lengthwise. Bring just to a boil, turn the heat way down, and cook for about 5 minutes.
Place the gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water to soak for 5 minutes while you cook the cream. (If you're using powdered gelatin, let it soak in about 1/4 cup of the remaining cream, and stir it into the hot cream when you take it off the heat.) Take the pot off the heat, remove the sheet gelatin from the cold water, and stir it into the cream mixture until it's dissolved. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then remove the vanilla bean. Note: If you like seeing flecks of vanilla, you can scrape out any seeds and leave them in the cream mixture.
Whip the remaining cream, and fold it into the cooled cooked cream. Lightly grease 8 to 10 one-cup custard cups with a thin film of butter. Scoop the cream mixture into them, cover with plastic wrap or foil, and chill for at least 3 hours.
About an hour before you want to serve the panna cotta, mash the strawberries with a pastry blender or potato masher, stir in the sugar and vinegar, and allow to steep. For each serving, upend a panna cotta onto a small dessert plate and spoon strawberries over and around it.
Nutrition information per serving (1/8 of recipe, 214g): 498 cal, 45g fat, 4g protein, 9g complex carbohydrates, 15g sugar, 2g dietary fiber, 165mg cholesterol, 47mg sodium, 215mg potassium, 507RE vitamin A, 43mg vitamin C, 88mg calcium, 89mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XII, No. 4, Spring 2001 issue.