8.31.2013

The Night of the Shawls

It was "love at first bite" in June of 2000, when I first slid my spoon into the silky, creamy panna cotta con frutta del bosco at Osteria del Tempo Perso in Montespertoli, Italy.

Mark and I had rented a farmhouse with six women friends in the small town of Fiano, near Certaldo. One day, we ran off from the group to have an adventure on our own. We bought a case of wine from a small family-run vineyard for $2 a bottle, picked up some vegetables and homemade jarred sauce from a roadside stand, and then had lunch in this small, off-the-beaten-path osteria.

We walked in and, as it was early, there was only one other couple seated in the large room; most of the room was taken up with a large, empty, U-shaped table set for 25-30 people, with many wine glasses at each place. Eventually the table filled and a banquet commenced. As it turned out, it was the regional wine-growers annual luncheon hosted by the mayor.

While loud and raucous, it was great fun to witness such a celebratory local event from the sidelines. We sat quietly eating our creamy truffle tagliatelle, watching them, and eavesdropping on their conversation.

Our food was deliriously good - especially the panna cotta - and we decided that we had to bring all our friends back for a special dinner. And we had the perfect idea.

Before leaving for Italy, we had already decided we wanted to have a special dinner with our friends, and we decided to make them each a party favor...

Since shawls were just coming back into fashion, we made one for each of them trying to match their taste, color preferences, and personality. We had asked our friends to pack a simple solid-colored dress for this occasion.

Prior to our departure, we had fun shopping for fabrics and notions, and designing and sewing them: cream and black shantung silk, lined with silvery blue shantung, for Cathy, and embroidered red Chinese silk with a saffron yellow lining for Barb. Sue got jewel-toned shantung with a black lining and - because she is French - Marie-Lise got a simple black one with white pearls sewn into the ends. Ursula, our lover of the Arts & Crafts movement, was given a wheat-colored linen shawl with sage green details (a nod to Charles Rennie Macintosh) and, for Joanne, we made one from lavender linen that accentuated her blue eyes.

We took them to Osteria del Tempo Perso, and every head in the restaurant turned as we walked in. All these beautiful women with shawls... it must have been quite a sight in this small Tuscan town. And, of course, we all had panna cotta for dessert.

Since then, I have made panna cotta often - with fresh berries, a berry sauce, chocolate sauce (my least favorite) and sometimes, in the winter, with a Marsala-chestnut honey sauce and pine nuts. But this is my favorite iteration to date.

Strange that, even though it is an Italian dish, this version has definite Provençal leanings, with its blue berries and golden honey. And the flavor? Provençal lavender mixed with lemon and rosemary honey we brought back from Provence.

The tanginess of the yoghurt offsets the density of the cream and the sweetness of the honey. The balance, I think, is pretty perfect. I hope you think so too.

Lemon-Lavender Panna Cotta

3 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoons dried culinary lavender buds
wide strips of zest from 2 organic lemons
1 packet (1.5 teaspoons) powdered unflavored gelatin
2 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cups Greek yoghurt (2%)
1 cup blueberries
rosemary honey to drizzle
lavender syrup to drizzle


Place cream, sugar, lavender buds, and lemon zest in a medium sauce pan and bring slowly to a simmer. Remove from heat and let steep 10 minutes.


Toward the end of the steeping time, place cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let sit 5 minutes.


Bring the cream mixture to a simmer once more, add the softened gelatin and stir until it has melted into the cream. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes.


Place yoghurt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to loosen. When cream has cooled somewhat, strain this mixture into the yoghurt and whisk well to blend.


If you want to unmold them, rinse 8 round-bottomed tea cups and divide mixture among them. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably 8 hours. (Can be made 2 days in advance.) To unmold, dip cups in very hot water for 10 seconds and then turn over onto a plate. You will have to shake it a bit to release the panna cotta.


If not unmolding them, divide mixture among 8 ramekins or small serving cups, cover, and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably 8 hours. (Can be made 2 days on advance.)


To serve, top each panna cotta with blueberries and then drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon rosemary honey and 1/2 teaspoon lavender syrup.


Serves 8.


Lavender syrup can be purchased in specialty stores and online at Amazon.

Culinary lavender buds can be purchased Windy Hills Lavender.

Rosemary honey can be purchased Chefshop.com.

Berries arranged at the Lourmarin market
 

32 comments:

  1. What a lovely post, David! I don't know if I've told you that I grew up in Italy, so I can completely visualize your experience watching the celebration. I love the name of the restaurant as well!

    Honestly, I have never tried Panna Cotta (I'm not sure why...) but this looks and sounds lovely. And, I'm glad you explained how you shaped them so perfectly.

    You two are so thoughtful - I'll bet your friends were over the moon when you presented them with their beautiful shawls!

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    1. Susan - I am sure you of all people will love panna cotta - especially if you lived in Italy. In what area were you living?

      We had such a fun time - and it was really great surprising them with their shawls...

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  2. David, panna cotta must be a dessert that was designed in heaven - it is one of the most delicious ways to end a meal, ever - I love making it and I adore the creaminess and the simplicity of the recipe - your version looks elegant and pretty and everything nice - love the berries and the honey and the rosemary - harmony!
    And yes, I am amazed at your generosity - such a thoughtful invitation and such beautiful gifts!
    What a wonderful post to end the fabulous month of August, dear friend!
    P.S.: Sorry, I forgot to mention the River Cottage Veg Cookbook yesterday - we should definitely plan a few posts together - I am thrilled that you bought the book and I am sure that it is the right edition! Liebe Grüße aus Bonn und noch ein schönes Wochenende, Andrea -Happy with the Nikon D3100?

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    1. You are so kind, dear Andrea! I think you will love the addition of the yoghurt... no, it doesn't make it diet food but it adds a creamy tang that I love.

      I would love to do some co-posts together! That would be great fun! Let's talk once I get the book and see where we can go...

      I am loving the D3100 - it is much better in low light, and I admit to getting a few new lenses when I got it! :)

      Bis bald, liebe Andrea!

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  3. wow fun trip and a stunning dessert :-) love your blog

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca! What a nice comment. I am glad you enjoy visiting Cocoa & Lavender.

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  4. You sew the shawls? Man, that's really a thoughtful gift! I can't begin to tell you how much I LOVE Italy, probably my favorite country to visit. Yet I'd never had panna cotta until a few months ago when I made it for the blog. Still have to try it with greek yogurt, I make it with honey. Gorgeous dessert David!

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    1. Paula - Yes, we both designed and made the shawls... there wasn't much else to do in Maine at that time of year! (Watch the April snow melt...) I think you will really like panna cotta once you make it p so simple and so exquisite!

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  5. beautiful dessert,so creamy and just melt in mouth in each spoonful,we so adore lavender and their syrupy drizzle will sure make this comforting dessert heavenly good,thanks for sharing :-)

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  6. Thanks, Kumars - (not sure if Rakesh or Swikruti wrote the comment!) - I have been trying to subscribe to Kumars Kitchen and having troubles - will keep trying as your recipes are amazing!

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    1. Hi,oh be sure it is us who felt the perfect texture of this yummy dessert and commented on it :-)...So thankful to you for letting us know we have forgot to add a subscription form in our blog...now it is added at the end of each post after the comment form....it is an honor for us when you subscribe and make some of those delicious dishes,thanks so much for your kind comments...HAVE A WONDERFUL DAY!!!:-)

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    2. Thanks so much for adding the form! I will look forward to many more posts from you!

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  7. Oh your friends will always remember the night they went out to dinner with you and received those lovely hand made shawls that is such a nice thing to do.
    We have a couple of friends from the UK that we meet up with on holiday. At the end of the holiday we nominate a small amount of money say $5 and we have to go out and find the tackiest souvenir we can find for each other. Gifts are all opened after dinner and several bottles of wine to much hilarity.
    Your panna cotta sounds delicious, I have never used lavender as an ingredient but you are inspiring me to give it a try.

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    1. Oh, Karen - you must try using lavender! It takes some trials to get the right amount - too much can taste like hand lotion, but the right amount is heaven!

      I love your $5 vacation ending - next time we do a group trip, I am going to suggest this!

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  8. Your panna cotta looks amazing! I love the combination of lemon and lavender together. Beautiful!

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    1. Thanks, Cory! Lemon and lavender are one of my favorite combos, too. Lavender and lime are pretty good, as well!

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  9. I have a friend who always calls pane cotta 'sex on a plate'! I love it! What a nice night to remember and what lucky gal friends you have!

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    1. Your friend pretty much has it right, Karin! Hope all is well in the bakery!

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  10. Beuaitufl panna cotta. one of my favorite desserts!!!

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    1. Thanks, Mr. & Mrs. P! You recent post made me think a Nutella panna cotta may be worth trying!

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  11. Beautiful. How lovely to have rented a house in Italy - I love the whole story. And I'm loving the image of the lemon with the dark shadow -- so pretty. (Of course your dessert is brilliant, too!)

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    1. Thanks, Valentina! Since this wasn't my planned post for the day, I needed to regroup and choose some taken shots I had taken before - the lemon was one of them. Glad I used it!

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  12. What a beautiful retelling of some special moments during your holiday. I've never been to Italy but I'm dying to go there... renting a farmhouse sounds like a fantastic idea! The shawls both look and sound beautiful. You and Mark are so thoughtful, with each one specially designed to suit the 'shawl bearer'. As for the pannacotta... you know how much I love lavender (I think this was one of our first conversations as blogging friends... lavender and rose!) and the combination of the creaminess with lemon and floral notes sounds perfect! I definitely need to try this. Love this post, as is the case with all of them David!!

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    1. Thanks, Laura - what a sweet and kind comment! Yes, I do remember out first chat about lavender and rose. I just read an article from Seattle online that cautioned people about using lavender in things - saying it makes everything taste like soap. Hah! If on;y soap tasted that good!

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  13. David, this is so pretty. Love blueberries paired with lemon - I bake them into a cake quite often.

    The dome shape is so cute, surrounded by the blueberry chain. And the lavender is such an interesting touch.

    I've never made panna cotta before. Can't wait to try your recipe.
    xo

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    1. Colette - I am kind of surprised you haven't made panna cotta - it would seem like something you would love! I neglected to mention that I have made it with Persian flavors, which was pretty incredible, too. Rosewater and saffron flavored with pistachios sprinkled on top!

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  14. I can say that I know first-hand that your panna cotta is divine...but I have not tried this version with lavender. It sounds wonderful! I enjoyed the story of you and Mark discovering the osteria, too...the joy of finding such a gem...and then to share it!

    As always, thanks for such a lovely post!

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    1. Susan - this version is the ultimate panna cotta. I really think you and Towny will like it a lot. xox

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  15. Mr. P is obsessed with panna cotta. He just can't get enough of it! We need to try your recipe! that rosemary honey sounds wonderful!!!

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    1. Cristy - let me know what you think when you try it. I hope Mr. P likes it!

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  16. As one of the shawl recipients, I can say it is gorgeous and I'm very, very lucky to have such wonderful, creative friends. The panna cotta rocks, too.

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    1. Thanks, Babs! I look at that photo (thanks for providing it!) and it makes me smile from ear to ear!

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