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.
Never miss a local story.
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.