Parmesan Panna Cotta with Chianti Pears and Thyme Cream
Al contadino non far sapere quanto è buono il cacio con le pere, “Don’t let the farmer know how delicious cheese and pears are” is a Tuscan expression, invariably said whenever pears and cheese are served together, underscoring what a fabulous combination they make.
Here panna cotta made with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is paired with pears simmered in wine. The aged cheese adds a lovely salty-savory touch to silky smooth creamy panna cotta. A touch of thyme in the sauce brings this already stellar dessert over the top, adding lovely aroma as well as an additional hint of savory sweetness. The pears simmered in Tuscany’s famed chianti wine, ties both together in perfect calibration.
This delightfully inventive dessert was created by Roberto Gracci, a young Tuscan carpenter, avid home cook, and father of two who won first place for it in an Italian cooking contest.
For the panna cotta:
Pour the milk, cheese and sugar into a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the flavors meld, about 5 minutes. Do not bring to a boil.
Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin until incorporated, then stir in the heavy cream. Using an immersion blender or whisk, beat the mixture for a minute to combine the ingredients. Allow the mixture to cool.
Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into six 1/2 cup ramekins or molds. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.
For the thyme cream:
Heat the milk and thyme in a small saucepan, over medium high heat, until it begins to just bubble at the edges. Do not boil. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and allow to cool to room temperature. In the same saucepan combine the yolks and confectioners’ sugar and using an electric hand mixer, beat until creamy. Strain the reserved thyme-milk into the saucepan and stir until well combined. Heat over low flame until the mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon, about 4 minutes. Allow to cool then, pour the mixture into a small bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use.
For the pears:
Peel, core and slice each pear into 8 slices, for a total of 16 slices. Combine the wine and pear slices in a saucepan and simmer, covered, until softened. Reserve.
Run a knife tip around the inner edge of the ramekins and turn over onto the center of a serving plate. Arrange 3 slices of pear on one side of the plate in a fan shape, topped with some of the Chianti syrup. Drizzle some of thyme cream on the other side of the plate. Garnish with fresh thyme. Serve immediately.