The darkening sky brings news of a threat from the north. Lactose intolerance is climbing my family tree. In Wisconsin, no less! My mother has never been close friends with dairy, and now my sister is starting to feel the same. It’s impossible that I be next in line to suffer this terrible fate. Countless oddly-shaped, strangely-named and funny-smelling cheeses still await my discovery!

It felt slightly wrong making this buttermilk panna cotta knowing my sister was at the same time stockpiling Lactaid. Fortunately she’s not here to taste, and to be honest, my as yet unwavering tolerance should be celebrated! So on I went.

Panna cotta (“cooked cream”) is a minimalist dessert in fancy clothing. I bet Mark Bittman would agree. Sure the presentation is dramatic. The method on the other hand is surprisingly basic, with only a handful of ingredients and steps before you have dessert chilling in the refrigerator.

This silky Italian classic is actually quite subtle, making it the perfect canvas for fresh fruit, a fruit sauce, chocolate shavings, a wine reduction, caramel — you name it. The first night we enjoyed it with grilled Calimyrna figs and orange blossom honey. The second, I zested lemon on top of mine, while he opted for dark chocolate chunks.

It’s pretty impressive. And not at all appropriate for lactose intolerants. (I promise to make something different if you visit, Rach! Either that, or bring lots of Lactaid.)

Buttermilk Panna Cotta [serves 6-8]

Printable recipe

1/4 c cold water

1 packet (1/2 oz) powdered unflavored gelatin

2 c buttermilk (make your own with whole milk + vinegar)

2 c heavy whipping cream

1 c granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out, or 1 t pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, combine cold water and gelatin; let bloom 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine buttermilk, cream, sugar and vanilla bean pod and seeds (or vanilla extract). Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes, allowing vanilla flavor to infuse the mixture. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard vanilla bean pod, if using. Stir in gelatin mixture.

Divide mixture among 6 or 8 lightly oiled 1/4-cup ramekins. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours; will keep chilled in refrigerator up to 2 days.

Turn out of ramekins, if desired, when serving. (Panna cotta may stick; scraping a thin knife around the edge or dunking the bottom briefly in hot water will help loosen.) Serve as is or with fresh fruit, fruit compote or sauce, grilled fruit, chocolate shavings or sauce, lemon zest, toasted coconut, caramel — whatever suits you.

Adapted from Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm

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