Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Aunt Hilda's Spanish Cream Becomes Ricotta Panna Cotta

When I first started blogging a few years back now, I noticed that many other bloggers were going on about something called "Panna Cotta". What, I wondered, was that?


It was what was known in our family as Aunt Hilda's Spanish Cream, that she first started making some time in the 1930's, now served in a spiffy glass and photographed at a stylish angle. Aunt Hilda was one of six sisters known for their talents in the kitchen. She made a number of desserts like this; rich, creamy, custardy and rather old-fashioned even when she was making them. Victorian, almost.

I have kind of mixed feeling about that. I mean, I wish "Panna Cotta" well in its new career, but I do wonder why things have to be given an Italian name and we have to pretend that our parents and grand-parents and great-grandparents had never heard of something that they actually probably ate about once a month, before they're allowed to be trendy. Still, if calling it Panna Cotta is what it takes to get people to try it, then so be it.

Aunt Hilda (actually my great-aunt) is long gone, alas, but her Spanish Cream carries on. Actually, this isn't quite her recipe, but not too far off. I lost some of the cream and eggs and replaced them with ricotta. This was some of the excellent ricotta that was given to us on our vist to Quality Cheese. The finished dessert was just perfect: rich, creamy, sweet but not too sweet, faintly tangy. It was delicious plain, and supported some preserved cherries wonderfully. Spanish Cream or Panna Cotta; by either name this is one special dessert.

6 servings
15 minutes prep time, 2 to 8 hours to set

Ricotta Panna Cotta
1 cup cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons plain gelatine
450 grams (1 pound) ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the cream, egg and sugar in the top of a double boiler. Cook over simmering water, beating constantly, until it thickens.

Put the custard in a food processor or blender. Sprinkle the gelatine over top. Blend briefly, then add the ricotta cheese. Blend well, until very smooth.

Divide the mixture into 6 individual serving dishes. Refrigerate until set; at least two hours. They can be served in their dishes, or unmolded. Aunt Hilda recommended some whipped cream or a spoonful of jam. Knowing the Aunties, that probably translated to "both" on the table. They are best eaten within 24 hours.

Last year at this time I made Boiled Ham with Cranberry Mustard. Which amuses me, because we just had a ham this week. I'm frequently amazed to go back a year and see that I really was eating some slight variation on the same thing at the exact same time last year. Often, things that could be eaten at other times of the year, but no; I ate it the same week, and it's not that I go back and check first. I don't.


Erica said...


I love your blog. I'm an urban farmer from Toronto, and I'm currently ramping up my local food intake to put my money where my mouth is.

Where could I find a list of herbs and grains that grow in Ontario?

Thanks and keep up the good work!

City Seed Farms

Ferdzy said...

Hi Erica;

Do you mean herbs and grains that ARE grown here, and you can buy, or herbs and grains that COULD be grown here?

Richters probably have the most complete herb seed catalogue you will ever see and they are on the internet. They are usually pretty clear about what things could be grown outdoors and which can't.

Grains are more tricky in a way. Soft (cake and pastry) wheat will frequently be grown in southern Ontario as it needs warmer weather than they have in most places and commands a higher price than most other grains. Just about everything else is more likely to come from the prairies as they have less choice of what they can plant; however, there are farmers here and there growing other things besides soft wheat in Ontario. It's not always easy to find them though, and I certainly don't have a complete list.

And finally, growing the stuff is generally not the problem. It's getting it processed to be sellable that generally prevents farmers from getting into any particular crop. Agricultural processing machinery is staggeringly expensive for the most part.

I know this probably isn't terribly helpful but it's what I've got. Sorry.

Erica said...

No, that was very helpful!

I just grow veggies, but was curious to see what Ontario grows in other areas.
I've seen that rye and spelt are grown here. And red fife wheat. I guess this is the soft wheat you're talking about?

Thanks for your response! I'll check out Richters too!

Ferdzy said...

No, Red Fife is a hard (bread) wheat. It's a particular variety that was bred to grow in Canada's short season, developed from a Ukrainian (I think) wheat via Scotland in the mid 19thC.

Soft/hard refers to the amount of protein (gluten) in wheat with soft wheat having less and hard wheat having more.

Actually, it occurs to me that if you are interested in growing grains in small quantities the best place to look would be Prairie Garden seeds. I don't think there is anyone else out there selling grain seeds in such small quantities or in such an impressive range of older and heirloom varieties.