When I think of my 2013 trip to Bologna, a specific lunch comes to mind (or should I say “lunches” since I made the pilgrimage twice): Pasta Fresca Naldi – a tiny mecca some distance from Piazza Maggiore, near the city walls, serving only pasta – and only for lunch. I made the trek on the recommendation of my B&B proprietress. Hearing that they supply fresh pasta to local restaurants and serve lunch to locals as a small side business, it sounded like my kind of place. When I stepped inside the tiny graffiti- marked building, it was packed with a line of customers and only a few random stools along the wall. Three generations of women (nona, mother, and daughter) cooked in the kitchen. It was clear that this was no tourist joint – one menu card at the counter, written in Italian, and a friendly woman who didn’t speak English to take my order. My Italian wasn’t any better than her English but with some good-natured pointing, nodding and gesticulations, I managed to place an order for two pasta dishes. “Due??!” she confirmed. “Si, Due!” I replied; this girl can eat. With some gestures of her own, she directed me to wait across the street at the picnic benches. She didn’t take any money. As I sat down on the bench, an Italian sitting next to me asked me how an American like me ever found this local place.
Perhaps the location had something to do with it, eating fresh pasta on the street in the Bologna sun with the locals. Whatever the cause, this simple pasta lunch was mind-blowing. After devouring both dishes and convinced I couldn’t eat another bite, I stepped back inside to pay. A small hand-written sign near the registered offering panna cotta with caramel for 1 euro quickly convinced me I needed dessert (doesn’t everyone order a rich and creamy dessert right after they’ve completely stuffed their face?). One panna cotta to go, please! This was a different dessert altogether from any panna cotta I’ve had – rich and cream, sporting a bottom layer of caramel like a hybrid of crème caramel and panna cotta. It too, was heavenly. I walked home along the sunlit street with my taste buds humming.
Note: Word has gotten out about this little gem since my trip. When I Googled it in 2013, there were zero results. One could find it by word of mouth only. Now, Pasta Fresca Naldi is listed on Trip Advisor and Yelp, they have a Facebook page, menus are available in English and their hours extend past lunch. A secret treasure never stays secret very long, does it?
Thinking back to my meals at Pasta Fresca Naldi and looking forward to my upcoming Italy adventure, here’s my attempt to duplicate that heavenly panna cotta.
Panna Cotta with Caramel
|3 ¼ cups||Heavy whipping cream|
|4 T.||Water (divided)|
Lightly spray 12 ramekins with unflavored oil. If using dessert glasses, no oil is needed.
In a small pan, combine ¼ c. sugar and 2 T. water. Cook over medium heat until the sugar caramelizes and turns the color of dark copper (watch closely so it doesn’t burn). Take caramel off the heat and add 2 T. water. Be carefully as the caramel will spatter when water is added. Stir together until combined. Pour a thin layer of the caramel in the bottom of the ramekins and set aside.
Pour gelatin in a small bowl with 4 T. of water. Stir and set aside for 5-10 minutes.
Combine whipping cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and whisk over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and small bubbles appear, but before the cream comes to a full boil. Remove from heat, whisk in the softened gelatin until dissolved. Add buttermilk and vanilla, whisk again and let cool 3-5 minutes. Remove any bubbles from top of custard.
Pour the custard into the prepared ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap (it doesn’t have to touch the surface like pudding) and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
You can serve the panna cotta in the dessert glasses with fruit or various toppings. To unmold ramekins, fill a small baking dish with boiling water. Slip a sharp knife around the inside of the ramekin loosening the custard, place the ramekin in the water for about 10 seconds and invert it onto serving dish. If needed, scrape any leftover caramel from the ramekin onto the custard.