Last weekend, to celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday, we had dinner at American Bounty. Every aspect of the meal was terrific, but it was the Vanilla Panna Cotta with Winter Fruits that stayed with me.

I am just a little obsessed with Panna Cotta, you see. I am of the opinion that it is truly a special food- rich and velvety yet ethereal- and there’s just nothing else like it.

Last year, I made several attempts to create a Panna Cotta without dairy (I used coconut milk) and without gelatin (I used agar agar, a seaweed). It sucked. Let’s just say it was not exactly blog-worthy and leave it at that.

Since I’ve not yet discovered how to make a great vegan Panna Cotta, I decided to give a lighter version of the classic Italian dessert a go. It is generally made with 100% heavy cream; I got the idea to replace some of the cream with buttermilk from a twitter conversation with my friend Ken. I like this buttermilk Panna Cotta because it’s still creamy, but also has a nice tang from the buttermilk- it also pairs really well with a sweet fruit topping.

Please know that I don’t like the idea of how gelatin is made and I am generally opposed to using it in my recipes. So I use it very seldom. As stated above, I’ve tried to make Panna Cotta without it and it didn’t work. Agar agar has worked for others, though: this gorgeous Panna Cotta from Food and Style is made without gelatin, so I will definitely be giving it another try.

One of the best things about Panna Cotta is that it’s so easy to make. I poured mine into these pretty 2 cup glass jelly jars but you could also let yours set in ramekins and unmold them for a more traditional presentation. This recipe theoretically makes 6 servings, but I made my servings bigger, so only used three jars. When set, I topped the Panna Cotta with some of these Nectarines in Spiced Rum Syrup that I preserved last summer. Wow.

Ps I think his would make a lovely dessert for Valentine’s Day. Maybe with some sliced strawberries macerated in a little lemon juice and organic sugar? Or with a few dollops of homemade strawberry jam? Yum. You could also serve it like they do at American Bounty, with delicate slices of beautiful blood oranges.

Recipe for Buttermilk Panna Cotta

adapted from Francis Lam

Serves 6

Ingredients:

* ½ cup raw or organic milk
* 2 teaspoons (¼ ounce envelope) powdered, unflavored gelatin
* 1 cup raw or organic heavy cream
* ½ cup organic sugar
* ¼ tsp. fine sea salt
* 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
* 2 cups all natural buttermilk
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup milk; whisk with a fork, then let stand to soften, about 5 minutes.

2. In a small pot on the stove, heat cream, sugar, salt and lemon juice over low heat. Whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add the gelatin-milk mixture, and continue to heat, whisking constantly. Take it off the heat just before it comes to a simmer.

3. Transfer to a different bowl and allow to cool. Add the buttermilk and vanilla extract. Cool to room temperature.

4. Carefully pour into jelly jars (I filled three 8 oz. jars about half-way) or into six 4 oz. glasses or ramekins and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Chill for several hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator until set.

5. Serve in the jelly jars or ramekins (or unmold by dipping ramekins briefly into hot water and running tip of a knife around edges, then invert onto plates). Serve topped with macerated/preserved fruit.

More Fabulous Panna Cotta Recipes:
Perfect Panna Cotta from David Lebovitz
Panna Cotta from Bell’ Alimento
Strawberry Panna Cotta from Chocolate and Zucchini