Why is Panna Cotta So Hot Right Now? 

click to enlarge Barbaro’s version with rose water and amaretto - ANA AGUIRRE
  • Ana Aguirre
  • Barbaro’s version with rose water and amaretto

If you’ve been spying more panna cotta offerings than usual, you’re not alone. The Italian dessert has turned into a fixture of sorts for area restaurants. Gabriel Ibarra, executive chef at Cappy’s on Broadway, explained why the classic treat is making inroads into the hearts and stomachs of eaters.

“Panna cotta’s an ‘it’ dessert because ‘it’ [i]s so easy to make,” Ibarra said. Cappy’s makes batches of panna cotta daily, the only drawback is finding a place to store the resulting 50 individual servings in glass containers.

It’s also easy to alter. As chef put it, there are several ways to accommodate special diets while serving panna cotta. Heavy cream, milk, sugar and gelatin can all be replaced and tweaked to help everyone enjoy the creamy dessert (including vegans!) by subbing in tapioca starch and/or using soy or almond milk.

The traditional process takes about three hours including cooling time. A steady and precise hand is needed when adding the gelatin, as too much might turn the panna cotta into a rubber ball and too little will result in a soupy mess.

At press time, the most current iteration at Cappy’s was a salted caramel panna cotta made with heavy cream, Maldive sea salt and caramel cooked until slightly bitter, topped with popcorn popped in bacon fat. Cue drooling.

“It literally tastes like a creamy Cracker Jack,” Ibarra said. “It takes you back to your childhood, which is what a lot of what food is.”

Panna cottas can also be found at The Monterey, which cranks out helter-skelter treats like buttermilk PC with Ovaltine ganache, plums, dried currants, butter crumb and shisho or a green tea version with caramelized milk crumble, dried strawberries, Texas peaches and mint. For the fall menu, Barbaro concocted one with rose water and amaretto, topped with toasted almonds. Stella Public House keeps a salted caramel panna cotta finished with vanilla almond biscotti and a brulee banana on its menu to avoid hordes of upset diners.

“You can go any direction with it because it doesn’t have to be really sweet, it doesn’t have to be really creamy,” Ibarra said of the dessert of the moment. It just has to be delicious.

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