It’s funny, the things you miss when you move overseas. I’ve blogged about this before, but I was adamant that I would move to Europe after I finished school. I didn’t exactly have small town Tuscany in mind. I was thinking Milan, but here I am. The older you become, the more you realise just how big a role chance plays in your life. I wasn’t even meant to teach English in Italy that summer of 2007. Then originally wanted me to go to Russia!! I cried and the volunteer organisation relented. I landed in Tuscany and the rest is history.
Spring is right around the corner at the moment. Or at least I hope it is. I have this floral print dress I am dying to wear, but I don’t want to pair it with tights almost as much as I don’t want the locals to think I’m crazy for walking around in February with bare legs. So in the wardrobe it stays!
This recipe is an homage to home, to spring and to the beautiful mimosa. The mimosa, the flower, that is, not the cocktail. It’s this spectacularly bright and cheerful tree that grows wild in Southern Tuscany and flowers with great showmanship just as winter ticks over to spring. Fellow Australians might know it as wattle, our national flower. Well, it’s not exactly wattle, just a cousin. These explosions of yellow (and hidden threats of hay fever) make me smile in a ridiculous way and I have to resist the urge to hug them. They’re beautiful reminders of home, so every year, I feel less homesick. It’s the little things, right?
In Italy, the mimosa is the sort of flower you give your mother for Mother’s Day and there’s a cake they make just for that day. It’s a fluffy sponge flavoured with a lemony custard. It’s sweet, but not I-need-a-drink-of-water-now sweet and it’s the inspiration for my panna cotta. Panna cotta is my favourite Italian dessert by far. As a kid, I would eat 30 of them whenever we went to Pizza Hut, ignoring the pizza completely. Of course, my version is far more authentic and grown up!
I was trying to mimic the cake’s lemon flavour, so I decided to use yoghurt. Nothing new, but I did drain the yoghurt, so it more closely resembled cream. If you’re super fancy, you can use muslin, but that’s impossible to find over here and I made do with a sieve lined with those thin cloth wipes. Put a bowl under the sieve, chuck it in the fridge overnight and you’ll find this beautiful thick yoghurt cream the next day.
The rest of the recipe is my mum’s panna cotta, flavoured with limoncello (the key ingredient in a mimosa cake) and topped with pistachios and pineapple. Pineapple doesn’t sound very Italian, but it’s actually traditional since it’s yellow and wattle/mimosa is yellow… figures! Drizzle over some maple syrup for a touch of sweetness and you have a very grown up and chic take on an Italian favourite. I made four over the weekend meaning to bring two to my parents-in-law, but Giulio and I gobbled them all up #DietsAreForSuckers!
yoghurt panna cotta
400g Greek yoghurt, drained overnight
200ml thickened cream
80g caster sugar
1 gelatine leaf, softened in cold water for 5 minutes
pistachios, thinly sliced pineapple and maple syrup, to serve
Whisk your drained yoghurt and half the cream in a small bowl. Heat the remaining cream and sugar over a very low heat until it’s almost boiling. Remove from the heat and squeeze all the excess water from the gelatine leaf before you stir it in. Make sure the gelatine has completely dissolved. You don’t how many desserts I’ve ruined with clumps of undissolved gelatine.
Whisk in the yoghurt and cream mixture and finally, add the limoncello. If you like your desserts a bit more boozy, add some extra limoncello.
Spoon into tea cups or other serving dishes and refrigerate overnight.
Panna cotta is traditionally served out of the mould, but I like serving mine in tea cups. It’s fancier, plus you don’t have to worry about the entire thing collapsing as you tip it out. If you do want to de-mould yours, remember to coat your moulds in a little oil before you spoon in the mixture and they’ll slide right out. Sprinkle on your pistachios and thinly sliced pineapple and add a drizzle of maple syrup for a final flourish.
This is made for dinner parties, since you can whip it up the night before and serve it straight in cutesy little tea cups like I did. It’s refreshing and light, easy to make and, I think, pretty impressive, plus you can tell everyone you adapted it from an obscure Italian cake and they’ll think you’re the reincarnation of Julia Childs!