If you're a custard kind of person (if you said "yes", no explanation needed... if the world custard does not excite any reaction in you, then don't feel left out, but I highly recommend reconsidering the virtues of this culinary delight), like me, then its close cousin panna cotta is probably near and dear to your heart (or stomach, more likely).
Panna cotta is an Italian "cooked custard", consisting primarily of milk, cream, sugar, and gelatin to give it a sexy little wobble. As the peice de resistance at my birthday dinner last sunday night, I prepared the "Heavenly Panna Cotta" from Gina DePalma's Dolce Italiano, which is easily one of my favorite recent cookbook purchases. The panna cotta was only slightly different than the classic in that it had a healthy dose of ricotta to give it just a bit more textural interest on the tongue, and of course contributing a richness and smoothness that ricotta is so darn good at providing.
The final panna cottas were not quite flecked with vanilla bean (they all fell to the bottom, sadly. I think if I'd chilled the custard slightly, then stirred and poured into the final glasses I might have averted this, but maybe by then they'd be too set?), but they tasted indeed like heaven. I used some of the leftover raspberry sauce from my morning crepes as a topping, and highly recommend it. I like to have a little something to contrast against all that creamy, and very rich goodness, so a tart little fruit topping is just the ticket.
Heavenly Panna Cotta
1 cup fresh sheep's milk ricotta or whole cow's milk ricotta
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 packet powdered gelatin*
Toppings: Chestnut Honey or vincotto was suggested, or try a quick berry sauce like I did
Place the ricotta and 1/2 cup milk in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously until the ricotta is smooth and lump free. Place the heavy cream and sugar in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with the flat side of a small knife and add them to the pan along with the bean. Place the mixture over medium heat and bring just to the boiling point, whisking occasionally.
In the meantime, whisk the gelatin into the remaining 1/2 cup milk and set aside. When the cream mixture has scalded, turn off the heat. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup milk and gelatin mixture. Gradually pour the liquid into the bowl with the ricotta, whisking constantly until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the vanilla bean an strain the mixture through a chinois or fine-meshed sieve. Divide the panna cotta among 6 dessert glasses and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.
Before serving, drizzle the surface of each panna cotta with 1 or 2 teaspoons of warm chestnut honey or a few drops of vincotto. Or use the topping of your choice!
Cook's Note: * The recipe calls for 4 sheets of gelatin, but I couldn't find any so I substituted the powdered Knox gelatin, which worked just fine. I followed her cue that 4 sheets of gelatin is equal to one of the powdered packets.