Recipe: Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Apricot Gelée

Panna Cotta, an Italian dessert of silky, sweetened cream set with gelatin, is all at once simple, classic and elegant.  It is, at its best, subtle, not overly sweet, and the perfect way to end a meal on a light and refreshing note.
Panna cotta comes together quickly and can be molded in any type of vessels you choose -- from ramekins to demitasse, martini glasses to mason jars.  I like to compliment my panna cotta with a thin layer of gelée -- a gelatin stabilized glaze made from fresh fruit.  Apricots are in season right now, and are bursting with summer sweetness, so I chose to do an apricot gelée.  You can use my recipe with any type of fruit you'd like.  
Here are some photos of panna cottas I've made in the past with a variety of gelées and vessels:
Vanilla Panna Cotta with a Honey Gelée and Bee Pollen
Lemon Panna Cotta, no gelée
Meyer-Lemon Panna Cotta, Strawberry-Rhubarb Gelee

I like to decorate my desserts with edible flowers, especially in summer and springtime. My theme fo…

Recipe: Artichoke Lovers' Four Cheese White Lasagna

Let's cut to the chase, shall we?
If you love artichokes, you're going to love this dish.

This is one of my earliest recipe creations as a young adult.  The year was 1995.  I was fresh out of college.  To earn some money over the summer, my dad hired me to cater a fully vegetarian Italian dinner for his "How to Host a Murder" party (remember those?).  

I came up with this easy, elegant vegetarian lasagna for the occasion, and I've been making it for friends and family ever since.  It's one of my husband's most favorite dishes.  The lasagna consists of layers of lasagna noodles, an artichoke and spinach ricotta filling and homemade béchamel sauce.  It is creamy, but not overwhelmingly rich.  If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, it gets better by the day and makes the perfect lunch to take to school or work.  It's amazing hot or cold.


4-Cheese Artichoke Lover's Lasagna

6 ounces fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
24 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted, drained of moisture and chopped
6 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/4 teaspoon dry oregano
1/4 teaspoon fresh or dry thyme
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3 large eggs
1/4 cup milk (2% or higher)
1/2 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
6 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano , grated
12 no-cook lasagna noodles

For the Béchamel Sauce 
4 Tablespoons butter
4 cups milk (2% or higher)
6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste

Butter a 9x13 baking dish
Preheat oven to 350° F

Step 1:  In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped spinach and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted (about 1-2 minutes).

Step 2:  Transfer cooked spinach to a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the chopped artichokes, ricotta, feta, eggs and milk.  Crush the herbs between your fingers before adding, to release their flavor.  Stir together the artichoke mixture, herbs, and bread crumbs.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Step 3:  Prepare the béchamel sauce:  Melt butter in a medium saucepan until it just starts to brown.  Whisk in the flour to form a roux.  Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, whisking continuously until the mixture is thick and creamy.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  

Step 4:  Fill a large bowl with hot water.  Place the lasagna noodles in the hot water for 2 minutes.  This adds just the right amount of moisture to the noodles to help them cook to perfection.  Begin assembling the lasagna by slightly overlapping a row of four noodles in the buttered dish.  Spread 1/3 of the artichoke mixture evenly over the noodles.  Spread 1/3 of the béchamel sauce on top.  Sprinkle with 1/3 of the gruyere and 1/3 of the parm.

Step 5:  Repeat (noodles, artichoke mixture, béchamel, cheese).  Finish with a final layer of 4 slightly overlapping noodles, the remaining béchamel sauce and the remaining cheese.  Bake, uncovered for 45 minutes.  The top should be brown and bubbly.  Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

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