Friday, November 23, 2007

What is panna?

One of the missing Italian elements from the American table is panna. The reasons for this are shrouded in mystery.

The word simply means "cream" in Italian, and you may be familiar with it from the popular dessert panna cotta, which literally means "cooked cream." But this Italian cream is not equivalent to our creams, either light or heavy. The Italians distinguish between panna da cucina (also called "panna per cucinare," as in the illustration) and panna da montare: respectively, cooking cream (for savory dishes) and whipping cream, for desserts and especially whipped cream. Although you could use the former in desserts.

The panna da cucina is thicker than the whipping cream, less fatty, and is not sweet. It is also thicker than our heavy cream, with a consistency between that of heavy cream and sour cream (which is practically unknown in Italy).

This panna is often looked down on by Italian culinary purists. But sometimes it is an excellent (albeit sinful) ingredient, for example, with tortellini al prosciutto crudo, a classic and irresistible dish.

It is, alas, very hard to find in the US.