I was in Italy when I've tried a panna cotta for the very first time, and it was quite a revelation. I understand why the Italians are so much in raptures over this dish. As Carluccio said in one of his books, "One of the main reasons for its popularity is its simplicity, and another is the sheer pleasure of eating it".
This delightful Italian dessert is traditionally made with sweetened cream, set with gelatine and flavoured with vanilla, coffee, pistachio etc. It is a very rich dessert, and if ordering it in a restaurant, I find that sometimes I struggle to finish it. You also need a sharp note to accompany it, like a lemon zest sauce or lime and basil jelly.
As a foodie, I'm always fascinated by new foods and ideas. Recently I was asked to come up with an idea of a recipe, using a Valsoia plant-based milk (almond or oat). And though I'm not planning to turn a vegan any time soon, I'm happy to test vegan-friendly foods and drinks.
Valsoia has been Italy's premier health food company since its foundation in 1990, leading the market for quality, product innovation and choice.
Utilising the finest ingredients, its wholly plant-based, GMO-free foods are produced with all the expertise of Italian food traditions and perfectly balance great flavour with healthy ingredients.
Valsoia's products enjoyed by millions of Italian families and the company is listed on the country's stock exchange.
Valsoia Longlife Almond Milk Alternative (£2 for 1L) is a plant-based alternative to dairy milk, enriched with calcium, vitamins B2, B12, D2 and E. It's high in fibre, gluten free and naturally lactose free, and is suitable for vegans.
This is a slightly sweetened almond milk. Nutritional info: 25kcal and 3g sugar per 100ml.
Valsoia Longlife Oat Milk Alternative (£2 for 1L) is another plant-based alternative to dairy milk. Enriched with calcium, vitamins B2, B12 and D2, it has no added sugar, it's high in fibre, low in fat and naturally lactose free.
I have tried both varieties with tea and coffee, and think they work better with coffee. I'm not a big fan of milk in tea anyway, and find that the plant-based milk disguises the flavour of tea, while it enhances the flavour of coffee.
As you can see from the photo below, the oat milk frothes well, if you're making a latte. And while you cannot mistake it for a dairy milk, as an alternative, it's pleasant on the palate. It's silky in texture, and slightly thicker than the dairy milk. It also has quite an oaty aftertaste.
Of the two Valsoia plant-based milk alternatives I prefer the almond milk, as it has a nutty flavour, which goes well with porridge or cereal.
Almond milk is, of course, not a recent invention. It's been a staple in many world cuisines for centuries, and was very popular as an alternative to milk during the Lent in the Middle Ages. In the Tsarist Russia there was a sweet drink called Orshad (Orgeat) made with almond milk and rose water. Yelena Molokhovets - the Russian equivalent of Mrs Beeton - has a fine recipe for this sweet dish.
To celebrate the Italian origins of Valsoia, I wanted to use its products as a base of an Italian-inspired recipe, and a panna cotta was a natural choice.
I must confess that my first attempt at making a panna cotta with almond milk was a disaster. I went shopping to Waitrose, but couldn't find any vegetarian gelatine. The assistant suggested using a pectin. I haven't used pectin recently, but in the past added it to jams. Though I followed all the advice I found online (and there are recipes for panna cotta with pectin), it just didn't work for me. I was left with a sweet gloopy mess.
Back to square 1. I found a Dr Oetker Vege-gel in Sainsbury's, and have made a new batch. This time the panna cotta has set beautifully.
If you are not concerned about the recipe being vegetarian or vegan, you can use a standard gelatine in this dish.
Almond Milk Panna Cotta (serves 4-5)
400ml Valsoia almond milk alternative
80g caster sugar
1 sachet of Vege-Gel or another vegetarian alternative to gelatine
170g coconut yogurt (for example, Waitrose Vegan Coconut yogurt)
1tsp vanilla essence
a punnet of raspberries (to make coulis)
Heat up half of the almond milk in a small pan, add the sugar, and stir until dissolved. Take off the heat.
In a separate small pan or cup beat in vege-gel in cold milk (first add milk, then vege-gel). It has to dissolve completely.
Pour the dissolved vege-gel into the warm milk into the pan, add the remaining milk and yogurt, vanilla essence and stir well.
Pour the panna cotta into lightly oiled cups or containers. Let it set for several hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge.
You will have 4-5 servings, depending on the size of cups you use.
|I used different sized cups & containers|
|The panna cotta is beautifully set after a night in the fridge|
To serve, overturn the cup onto a small dish and spoon the raspberry coulis over.
Tip: Place a cup with pannacotta into a pan of hot water for a few seconds, then the pannacotta will slide out easily.
To make a raspberry coulis, just blend the raspberries and then press through a fine-mesh strainer. You can add a squeeze of lemon or lime to loosen it a bit. I didn't add any sugar, as the main dish is sweet enough.
You can also serve it just in a bowl or cup, just pour the raspberry coulis over, or place some chopped mango with a squeeze of lime juice.
If you would like to try Valsoia, you can find it in Ocado. In July these products will be offered as part of a special promotion - buy 2, get 25% off.
I've been shopping online with Ocado for a year, and have discovered so many delicious European products which I haven't seen or tried before. Their Italian range is very impressive. I always sneak in a bag or two of Mulino Bianco biscuits with every online order. My husband is very partial to San Pellegrino soft drinks, so they are part of a regular delivery as well.
Picking up all your favourite authentic Italian food and drink has never been easier with the Ciao Gusto Italian Deli at Ocado.
As Ciao Gusto explains: "For the first time, a simple tab brings together over 30 of Italy's most popular brands, so you can find exactly what you're looking for - and discover new and exciting ingredients - in just one click.
There's more information about our brands too - many of which are still owned and run by the same families who established them - some as far back as in the 1800s".
You'll be familiar with many products, such as Riso Gallo, Filippo Berio, Giovanni Rana and Cirio who are joined by products less well known in the UK such as Valsoia dairy free ice cream, Auricchio cheeses and Negroni charcuterie - everything you'll find at the Ciao Gusto Italian Deli has been specially selected for its reputation as an authentic Italian favourite.
Here is a full list of the Italian brands you'll discover at the Ciao Gusto Italian Deli:
Pasta - Barilla, Rana
Rice - Riso Gallo
Flours - Polenta Valsugana
Tomato and Vegetable Conserves - Cirio
Cheese and Dairy - Auricchio, Parmareggio
Fish - Delicius, Medusa
Herbs and Spices - Cannamela
Tuna - Rio Mare
Cured Meats - Negroni
Soya and Rice Products - Valsoia
Olive Oil - Filippo Berio
Vinegar - PontiDried fruits - Noberasco
Jams - Santa Rosa
Coffee - Lavazza
Herbal teas - Bonomelli
Water and Fruit Juices - San Benedetto, Santal
Wine - Zonin, Santa Margherita
Spirits - Vecchia Romagna
Cherries and Syrups - Fabbri
As you can see, it's an excellent list of Italian products, some of them are well-known and much-loved, some are waiting to be discovered by the British foodies. I'm delighted to see some of the foods which we buy when we stay in Italy, it's lovely to be able to buy them here as well.
Disclosure: I received a small budget to spend on the products necessary to write a recipe post, including Valsoia. All opinions are our own.