Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries

In my quest for a patriotic dessert to make in honor of the Fourth of July, I came across many that utilize summer’s bounty of red and blue berries.  It just wasn’t the Fourth as a kid without a flag cake!  This red, white and blue dessert is a bit fancier than flag cake, and is really much easier.  No fruity stars and stripes here.  Just classically beautiful and incredibly good.

Panna cotta is Italian for cooked cream.  It has always seemed a little daunting to me, but this is truly one of the easiest desserts I have ever made.  The ability to make this days in advance is appealing to me…as someone who tends to stress before having guests.  Make these early and that’s one less thing to worry about the day of your party.

You can probably tell by the ingredient list that this is not a dessert you would enjoy every night of the week.  It is so very rich, so wonderfully creamy and perfectly smooth.  If you don’t have vanilla beans, then you can use a teaspoon of vanilla extract or ,better yet, vanilla bean paste which would give you the nice specks in this otherwise pure white dessert.  Enjoy!

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries

From Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis


  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans, split
  • pinch of salt
  • Assorted fresh berries


  1. Place the milk in a heavy, small saucepan.  Sprinkle gelatin over the top and let sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir over medium heat until gelatin dissolves, but milk does not boil, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the cream, honey, sugar, vanilla beans and salt.  Stir over heat until sugar dissolves.  Remove vanilla beans and scrape out seeds into the mixture.  Stir to distribute.
  4. Remove from the heat and divide the cream mixture into 6-8 cups (wine glasses are pretty, but dessert cups or ramekins are fine).
  5. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.
  6. Garnish with berries and a sprig of mint.

Artichoke and Mushroom Lasagna

There are so many reasons to love lasagna.

  1. It can be simple or fancy.
  2. It can be a meat lovers delight, a vegetarians dream, or you can combine your meat and veggies and create an omnivores dilemma!  Get it?  Anyway…I know Sarah does.
  3. It can be made with a red pasta sauce, a creamy white bechamel, or a fresh basil pesto sauce, and others.
  4. It can be prepared in advance, frozen and baked later.
  5. It can feed a crowd, or it can feed a couple for days and days!
  6. It can be enjoyed warm with oozing cheese, or cold from the fridge.

I love lasagna.  This lasagna is a delicious veggie combination of mushrooms and artichokes in a rich bechamel sauce.  Ben and I really enjoyed it, and brought a plate to our neighbor who also was pretty complimentary of the dish.  The only criticism he gave was that it should have had a garnish of cilantro instead of parsley.  He puts cilantro on everything.  I think he might eat it on his cereal…

My iPhone is incredible.  Epicurious has an app that I just love.  I am able to search for a recipe while at the grocery store, get a shopping list, email the recipe to myself and have it waiting for me when I get home to cook.  Modern technology is one of my best friends.  That is how I found this recipe.  Here is the link. I made a few changes to the recipe based on the time I had to make this meal and what I had at home.  I used canned artichoke hearts instead of frozen since I did not have time to let them thaw.  I also used regular lasagna noodles because I had some in the pantry.  I used shredded mozzarella instead of sliced.  I substituted vermouth with dry white wine that I had left over from another recipe.  Despite the substitutions this lasagna was delicious and we enjoyed it for a few days.  It was great reheated, and cold as well.  This is something I would make again and serve at a dinner party or bring to a pot-luck.

Mushroom and Artichoke Lasagna

Bon Appetit, February 2002



  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cans of artichoke hearts, drained, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine

Béchamel sauce

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 4 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 7 1/2 ounces)
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 1 package lasagna noodles, prepared according to package directions to al dente
  • 1 pound (4 cups) part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

For filling:

  1. Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic; sauté until mushrooms release juices and begin to brown, about 7 minutes. Add artichokes and wine. Cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

For béchamel sauce:

  1. Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; stir 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce thickens and lightly coats spoon, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups Parmesan. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg.
  2. Spread 2/3 cup béchamel sauce over bottom of 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Top with enough noodles to cover bottom of dish. Spread 1/4 of artichoke mixture over. Spoon 2/3 cup béchamel sauce over. Top béchamel with 1/4 of mozzarella.
  3. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons Parmesan. Top with enough noodles to cover. Repeat layering 3 more times, finishing with a layer of noodles, then remaining béchamel. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with foil and refrigerate.)
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake lasagna covered with foil 1 hour (or 1 hour 15 minutes if chilled). Remove foil. Increase temperature to 450°F. Bake lasagna until golden on top, about 10 minutes longer.

Daring Bakers: I took the Cannoli

Deep frying food is not something that I do very often, so I was a little weary of this challenge. However, my experiences as a Daring Baker have prepared me for this.  I was ready for cannoli!  Bring it on.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.