Panna cotta

Panna cotta da vida, baby.

So, you may have noticed that I’m going by a different surname these days. Yes, the ol’ girl done got herself hitched. And she’s traded in a big pile of consonants for a lot of extra As.

And so, hearing this news, you may ask yourself, as many of my acquaintances have, what does a Food Nerd serve at her wedding?

Well, if you have visions of a multi-course, sit-down dinner, with me calmly juggling bridal bouquet and tray of chanterelle-stuffed vol-au-vents, then you must be thinking of some other food writer. I’ll admit that when this whole wedding idea got cooked up way back when (it’s been a lengthy engagement… so lengthy that I’ve been referring to my husband as my husband for about a year and a half), I was a little control-freakish about the menu.

But then reality caught up with me and I had to admit that a woman with two youngsters and various jobs just shouldn’t try to handle a wedding’s worth of food on her own.

I am damned lucky, let me tell you, to have family and friends who are as happy in the kitchen as I am. People who, from the moment the wedding was announced, asked, “What can I make?”

I come from a line of food lovers, and whenever there’s an event of any sort, we’re driven to cook something. It’s just how we are. If you should ever find yourself throwing a wedding, and someone asks if they can help with the food (and you’re not tied to a caterer, naturally), say a great big “yes.” As long as they know what they’re doing, of course. Which, more often than not, they actually do, or they probably wouldn’t be offering.

As a recently-wed person, I can tell you that no matter how capable you think you may be, the week before your wedding is no time to be roasting all manner of roast beasts and wrapping pastries and making hors d’oeuvres. You will have other things to do. Best leave the cooking to someone who isn’t about to, you know, get married.

So here’s how the whole thing went down. We opted for a nice, cozy afternoon wedding at a family home, and after a short-ish ceremony we all tucked into a great array of finger foods—wonderful bread, cheeses and olives and pickles and grapes and figs (yes, I braved Costco), thinly-sliced turkey and ham and roast beef from various family ovens, ridiculously delicious spanikopita, wonderful spicy meaty nibbly things.

And the cake? My life-long friend and soul sister Meghan O’Dea (of Pi fame) made what might have been the most deliciously dense, chocolate-full, fudgefully-frosted wedding cake in the history of the sport.

Throw some wine on top of all that, and I ask you: is there a better feast? No having to worry about seating plans or which bits of cutlery to use, and we got to mingle with our guests while hanging on to our little plates and wondering where we left our wine.

It was a proper party, no stress, no pressure, no wedding-day freak-outs.

Did I really leave all the food up to my friends and loved ones? Well, I figured I should pitch in a little—it is, after all, what I do.

So, on the night before my wedding, while other women might be flitting in hennish flocks through the streets of downtown, or drinking fluorescent shooters in some sticky bar, I was at home, making six dozen servings of panna cotta.

To be fair, my husband was up half the night making Ultimate Wedding Mix Volumes One and Two and printing programs, so it all came out even.

Panna cotta, if you’ve never had it, is a lovely dessert of Tuscan provenance—basically sweetened cream set with gelatin. I know, that sounds kind of weird, but trust me, it’s awesome. It’s as rich as ice cream, as smooth as custard, and miraculously light for something that’s made of, you know, cream.

It’s always a favourite of mine when I happen to be in a restaurant, but since that happens less and less these days, I decided to take matters into my own hand and learn how to make the stuff myself.

Well, it didn’t take much to figure it out. The recipe isn’t even a recipe really, just instructions. Honestly, if I could make 72 individual cups of panna cotta in an evening and still manage to get a decent night’s sleep, it can’t be all that hard.

For serving cups, I used 125-ml jam jars (apologies if you were trying to buy tiny jars last month—I may be the jerk who bought them all). They looked mightily cute, and the lids and boxes made transporting them from my house to the wedding site super easy.

And I can reuse the jars for everybody’s Christmas present preserves for the next three years, so it’s an investment.

Normally panna cotta would be unmolded onto a plate, but we kept it simple, eating panna cotta out of jars with a spoonful of berry sauce on top (Pouch Cove blueberries, Cape Spear blackberries, and Pleasant Street raspberries cooked with some apple jelly I’d made earlier in the fall). People loved it, and, at risk of sounding ridiculous, love is what the day was all about. Every 12-serving batch took a whopping five minutes.

I need to throw more big parties just as an excuse to do it again.

Hey, just eleven months until our anniversary…

Panna Cotta

1 litre coffee cream (18%)
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 packets unflavoured gelatin
6 tablespoons cold water
¾ cup fruit preserves of your choice
12 125-mL jam jars, or equivalent dessert cups

1. In a large bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the cold water and let sit while you heat the cream. Make sure that you sprinkle it evenly, without any big lumps, so that it will soften throughout.
2. In a large pot, stir together sugar and cream until sugar is dissolved. Heat until just below the boiling point – don’t actually let it boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
3. Pour hot cream mixture over softener gelatin, and stir until gelatin has been completely dissolved. Distribute the panna cotta evenly between the twelve jars or cups. Refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.
4. Before serving, top each serving with a tablespoon of preserves.

One comment

  1. Uncle Jim · July 31, 2011

    Great article Andreae, a fun read and great advice to anyone planning a weeding. Love to all 4 of you Jim