Pannacotta means ‘cooked cream’ and it makes a simple but luxurious dessert. It is best made with a vanilla pod rather than vanilla extract, as the seeds that fall into the cream mixture give it a fresh vanilla flavour and speckled appearance. Don’t throw vanilla pods away after use; simply rinse them if necessary, then dry and place in a pot of sugar. A couple of days later you will have vanilla sugar, perfect for sprinkling over fresh fruit.
Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus 3 hours’ chilling
Cooking time: 10 minutes
4 tablespoons caster sugar
300 ml ( ½ pint) double cream
300 ml ( ½ pint) milk
1 vanilla pod, split open lengthways
175 g (6 oz) mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons Marsala
2 level teaspoons gelatine granules
For the berries:
100 g (4 oz) caster sugar
50 ml (2 fl oz) water
finely grated zest of 1 lime
juice of ½ lime
2 sprigs of fresh mint
50 g (2 oz) each of blackberries, strawberries and blueberries (slice or halve the blackberries and strawberries if large)
Put the sugar, cream, milk and vanilla pod in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and take out the vanilla pod. Whisk the mascarpone into the hot cream mixture.
Put the Marsala in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Leave it to swell for 5 minutes, then place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the base of the bowl, and leave until the gelatine has completely dissolved. Stir it into the warm cream.
Lightly oil four 200 ml (7 f I oz) ramekins or glass pots and pour in the cream mixture. Chill for 3 hours or overnight, until set (it will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge).
To make the berry compote; put the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for 1 minute. Leave the syrup to cool for 5 minutes, then add the lime zest and juice, mint sprigs and fruit. Leave to cool completely.
To serve, turn out the pannacotta: dip each ramekin in a bowl of hot water for 30 seconds and then invert on to a serving plate or bowl, giving it a good shake to release. Discard the mint sprigs from the compote, then spoon the fruits and syrup around the pannacotta.