The City of Water lived up to its name. As if to counterbalance the surfeit of sunshine that my travel companions and I had enjoyed in other European cities, Venice gave us days during which it rarely stopped raining. Water maintained a permanent presence, churning in the canals, running in rivulets between pavement stones, and flooding the Piazza San Marco, summoning street vendors peddling ponchos and umbrellas to drenched tourists. When tiptoeing around ever-expanding puddles proved futile, my comrades and I lugged our waterlogged selves, sodden shoes and all, through the city.
Brief interludes of sunshine bookended storms and brightened our moods, permitting us to wander down winding roads and to take a gondola ride down the Grand Canal, during which our gondolier peppered us with Venetian trivia while we soaked in the sights, before seeking shelter from torrential downpour once more.
Restaurants were our favourite refuge. We filled up on flavourful Venetian fare, sometimes to to the point of feeling like overstuffed ravioli: heaping platefuls of pasta in myriad shapes, sizes, and sauces; pillowy pieces of still-warm mozzarella sandwiched between tomato slices and basil leaves; and piping-hot pizzas topped with molten ricotta, all washed down with glasses of wine as cheap as water.
In the midst of gorging on great food and wringing water out of hair, I encountered one of the best desserts of the entire trip, which was high praise considering that I had already eaten my weight in gelato by the time we had reached Venice. A shot glass of panna cotta, studded with just with enough pieces of strawberry to stain my lips pink and to make me crave more, serves as the inspiration for this recipe.
My version of panna cotta – or “pan”-na cotta, as I like to pun – embraces more unabashedly the flavour of fragola, a fruit as curvaceous and delicious as the softly rounded Italian word sounds. Sweet strawberries, hand-picked by me at a Michigan farm back here in America and macerated with fresh basil and mint, complement the tartness of the lemon juice and the yogurt incorporated into the panna cotta. Easy to make and even easier to enjoy, this panna cotta is the perfect summer dessert.
BERRY BASIL PANNA COTTA (WITH A HINT OF MINT)
½ tablespoon unflavoured gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
½ cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
4 fresh basil leaves
2 fresh mint leaves
½ pound fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar
4 fresh basil leaves
4 fresh mint leaves
This is How it Pans Out
Sprinkle the gelatin over the heavy cream in a saucepan. Let sit for 10 minutes. Heat the saucepan over medium heat, adding the whole milk, lemon juice, and sugar. Stir regularly until the gelatin and the sugar dissolve and the contents combine. Remove from heat and add the basil and the mint leaves. Cover and let infuse for 15 minutes. Remove the basil and the mint leaves out of the saucepan. Pour the contents into 4 ramekins. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at lest 5 hours. Half an hour before serving, finely chop the remaining basil and mint, and cut the strawberries into eighths. Mix in a bowl, sprinkle with sugar, toss gently, and let stand for 30 minutes. Unmould the panna cotta onto serving plates (placing the ramekins in hot water for a few seconds will help the panna cotta to slide out). Top with the macerated strawberries and syrup. Buon appetito!