Italian Panna Cotta Wins Hearts on Valentine’s

As I write this column, I’m gazing at snow-covered mountains outside my window. We’ve escaped to Swan’s Nest for a couple of months before returning home to Dallas for the spring. The sky is a brilliant blue without a cloud in sight and the thermometer reads 10 degrees.

On cold days like this, I’m often inspired to invite friends for a cozy dinner that begins with apps served by the hearth, but one doesn’t have to be in the mountains to take advantage of hearthside dining.

For appetizers, afternoon tea, or a romantic dinner, North Texas winters provide ample opportunities to dine in front of the fireplace. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times my husband and I have enjoyed apps or dinner in front of the fire in our Park Cities home.

We recently invited friends to join us for a simple Italian meal that began with fireside appetizers followed by bowls of minestrone, lasagna with meat sauce, salad, and garlic bread.

For dessert, I served panna cotta with raspberry coulis. Panna cotta is a light, creamy Italian custard with a delicate vanilla flavor. It becomes a beautiful and easy Valentine dessert when poured into small heart-shaped molds.

Panna cotta offers a multitude of serving options. Although I’m partial to personal-size heart pans, other options include pouring the custard into a 9-inch round or heart-shaped pan, custard cups, Champagne coupes, or other individual glass containers. Garnish with fresh berries or raspberry or strawberry sauce.

To make the sauce, place berries in a blender with a tablespoon of sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Blend until smooth, pour into a fine sieve set over a bowl, and press the puree against the sieve with the back of a spoon to remove the seeds.

Served by the fire on Valentine’s Day, this pretty custard is sure to win hearts.

Panna Cotta


1 package unflavored gelatin

1/3 cup sugar

2 cups cold half-and-half

1 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean

Fresh raspberries, for garnish


In a medium saucepan, stir together gelatin, sugar, half-and-half, and cream. Set aside 10 minutes until the gelatin has softened. Slice a vanilla bean open using a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds with the tip of the knife. Add the seeds and vanilla bean to the saucepan and stir.

Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it is hot and small bubbles form around the edges of the pan, but do not boil. 

Strain the custard through cheesecloth into a bowl or large liquid measuring cup.

Spray 8 individual 3-inch heart-shaped molds with nonstick cooking spray. 

Ladle or pour the custard into the prepared molds, cover, and chill 3 hours or until set. Alternately, pour the custard into a 9-inch round or heart-shaped baking pan, or cool and ladle into custard cups or Champagne coupes.

To serve, unmold the panna cotta by dipping the heart-shaped molds into a bowl of hot water for 5 to 10 seconds. Place a dessert plate over the mold, turn both over, and unmold the custard onto the plate. Repeat with the remaining molds. Garnish each plate with fresh raspberries or raspberry sauce.

Yield:  8 servings

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Christy Rost

Public television chef Christy Rost is the author of three cookbooks and a longtime resident of the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. For additional recipes and entertaining tips, please visit or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @ChristyRost.

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