Panna Cotta with Caramel

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta with Caramel

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.

Tortelloni in Bologna

Pasta Fresca Naldi Tortelloni

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
Makes 12

Panna Cotta
1 Tablespoon Gelatin
3 ¼ cups Heavy whipping cream
1 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
¾ cup Buttermilk
¾ t. vanilla
Caramel (optional)
¼ cup Sugar
4 T. Water (divided)

Lightly spray 12 ramekins with unflavored oil.  If using dessert glasses, no oil is needed.

Caramel (optional)

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.

Panna Cotta

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.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta with Fresh Nectarines


I was horrified to learn that I gained eight pounds in two weeks. Perhaps it had something to do with all of the gelato “research”.

Discoveries included that the best pistachio (and I tested scoopfuls) was from Stefino Bio in Bologna – the sister gelateria of Stefino on Galleria. The ‘Bio’ references their commitment to using only organic ingredients and their rice milk options.  This pistachio was definitely made with real milk.  In my very broken Italian I made it clear what I was looking for – “Si latte, no riso.”

The other flavor that stayed with my taste buds was Cioccolato all’Arancio (Chocolate Orange) from Gelatauro, also in Bologna.  Dark chocolate with candied orange peel from their own Calabrese citrus groves and hunks of sponge cake.  Rich and dark chocolate with just a hint of orange. I may be trying to duplicate this one for July 4th this year.

Stefino, Via Petroni, 1/C, Bologna, Italy

Gelatauro, Via San Vitale 98/B, Bologna, Italy


Winner – best pistachio


Pistachio and Chai


Known for their own flavor combinations- this is Ludovico and Eduardo.




Visit #2 to Gelatauro – Almond-Pistachio


Chocolate orange and pumpkin spice

 PICT1375     PICT1485


We have a new look.  I’ve lightened and brightened the site a bit, hopefully making it easier to read.  The topics remain the same – cooking and living – and not necessarily doing either one successfully.

I’ve just returned from gelato school in Italy.  I’m overwhelmed with the idea of regurgitating my experience on these pages today so, I’ll just show you a few of my favorite images from my adventure for now.

p.s. “Gelataia” is a female gelato maker, but for whatever reason, it reminds me a little too much as “genitalia”.

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