I am not big on drinking milk. Milk-based products are another story. Cheese, yogurt, gelato and butter are products I would have a hard time living without.
A few summers ago while leading one of my tours through Sicily, I was introduced to a milk product I had never experienced before.
I had the pleasure of bringing the tour group to an agroturismo outside of Siracusa where I held a cooking class. All of the meals prepared there came directly from their farm including vegetables, fruit, snails, pork, rabbit and milk.
After we prepared an extensive meal, I was told I would be preparing panna cotta, which is a form of Italian pudding. Also it was communicated to me that I would be milking the animals in order to use the freshest milk possible. They led me outside to where they kept their livestock and saw no cows. I asked them in Italian where the cows were. "No cows here," they replied, and pointed to a donkey. Apparently, milk from a donkey is used extensively on farms in Sicily. It is not sold in stores, however it is touted to have a plethora of minerals and nutrients and is fed to newborns when a mother's milk is not available. It is very sweet and has a very low fat content, which makes it virtually impossible to make cheese or any other milk-based products, however, it can be used with a bit of gelatin to make panna cotta.
After obtaining the milk from two donkeys, which was quite an experience, we prepared the dessert. All but two of our group ate the dessert. I guess they were a bit squeamish. Too bad, it was quite a delicious culinary experience.
Panna cotta is one of the desserts served at Ortygia when the mood hits me.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get my hands on any donkey, so I guess we'll just have to settle for plain old cow milk. Sorry.
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons cold water
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
1/3 cup sugar
1- 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a very small saucepan sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand about 1 minute to soften. Heat gelatin mixture over low heat until gelatin is dissolved and remove pan from heat.
In a large saucepan bring cream, half-and-half, and sugar just to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring. Remove pan from heat and stir in gelatin mixture and vanilla. Divide cream mixture among eight 1/2-cup ramekins and cool to room temperature. Chill ramekins, covered, at least six hours or overnight.
Dip ramekins, into a bowl of hot water 3 seconds. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin and invert ramekin onto center of a small plate. Serve with fresh berries. Serves 8.
Chef Gaetano Cannata, owner of Ortygia Restaurant in Bradenton's Village of the Arts, can be reached at email@example.com.