Cook the Book: Fresh Basil Panna Cotta

Cook the Book: Fresh Basil Panna Cotta

[Photographs: Caroline Russock]

Some time into Cathy Erway's Not Eating Out in New York project she was faced with a big challenge. Recently single, she realized that going out for dinner with a potential suitor wasn't an option. She was forced to come up with creative ways to date that didn't involve the classic dinner and a movie, or at least not the dinner part.

She decided that instead of going out to a fancy meal she could replicate the experience at home and after months of nonstop cooking she was up to the task. The first time she put her romantic kitchen skills to the test involved a batch of basil-infused ice cream. The date didn't become a lasting love, but the recipe was a hit.

This Fresh Basil Panna Cotta from The Art of Eating In is inspired by that ice cream date.

Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering cream and sugar together and then blending in gelatin so the texture is transformed into something that resembles a thick sweet custard. Cathy's panna cotta is infused with basil, an herb Italians consider to be a symbol of love, making it an ideal way to end a dinner at home date.

Panna cotta can be successfully executed by even the most pastry-shy cooks because it requires nothing more than a quick simmer and a good long chill in the fridge. The cream can be infused with anything your heart desires—but basil is pretty romantic.

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  • Yield:4


  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 bunch fresh basil leaves, rinsed well
  • 2 cups heavy cream (or substitute whole milk for up to 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup sugar


  1. 1.

    Dissolve gelatin in water and set aside. Reserve one or two large basil leaves for the garnish.

  2. 2.

    Combine the cream, sugar, and the rest of the basil in a medium saucepan and just bring to a simmer.

  3. 3.

    Remove from heat and cover to steep for 20 minutes. Strain the leaves from the cream mixture and stir in the gelatin.

  4. 4.

    Divide equally among four ramekins, cover with plastic, and chill at least 4 hours or overnight to set.

  5. 5.

    Roll up reserved basil leaves and slice thinly into chiffonades. Place a pinch of the chiffonades on each of the ramekins to garnish.