Pumpkin-Ginger Panna Cotta

Originally Posted: 04 Nov 2009 12:47 AM PST

I, like many chefs, have always had a bittersweet anticipation of the holidays. That stretch from Thanksgiving through New Years is filled with holiday parties, special dinners, romantic dates, midnight kisses and lots and lots of alcohol. Unfortunately, not so much for myself or my chef brethren. We are the ones who work so the rest of society has a place to celebrate. That 5-6 week stretch is when most restaurants make the bulk of their money, or at least see a decent bump in revenue. We are not alone, servers, managers and staff all work just as hard. For some it is a wakeup call that perhaps the restaurant industry is not for them. In the last 20 years, I’ve had off for 1 New Years Eve, 2 Thanksgivings and 2 Christmas Days.

There are others for whom the holidays mean working Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Doctors and hospital staff, travel industry employees, police and fire and many more. It is thankless, many friends and family don’t understand why you’re working every holiday. Why you put up with those hours, but it is part of what is required along with “days, nights, weekends, must be flexible, must be willing to work all holidays”. It is a mantra that appears on virtually every advertisement for a cook/chef position.

On a more positive note, it is a time to create and play with the more traditional holiday foods. If I have to be open and working on Thanksgiving Day, I don’t want to have to do a plain, traditional roast turkey plate. I want to do something fun, different without crossing the line (too much). Perhaps a white truffle stuffed sous-vide turkey breast with caramelized apple gastrique, mmmhh, now we’re talking. For dessert, a marriage of Italian simplicity with an American holiday staple, such as this Ginger Pumpkin Panna Cotta.

Panna Cotta

Ginger-Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Cranberry Sauce and Candied Ginger

Panna Cotta or “cooked cream” is an Italian specialty hailing from the north in and around Piedmont. Cream is flavored with nuts, spices or vanilla and set with gelatin and served cold. Most times with berries or chocolate. The preparation is simple and the variations that can be produced are virtually limitless, provided you account for this while deciding on the amount of gelatin you will need. Too much gelatin and you will have to chew the panna cotta, not pleasant, like eating dried out Jello as a kid, don’t tell me you’ve never done that. Too little gelatin and your panna cotta won’t set and maybe runny or fall into a somewhat yogurt consistency. To test, place a spoon or shallow dish into the freezer, once your batter is made, place a little on your frozen spoon and let it set. From there you will know if you need to adjust.

Regarding the use of ground cinnamon, you never want to add ground cinnamon to cold liquids. It will clump and not be attractive or easy to work with. Anyone who has ever added cinnamon to cold French toast batter knows what I’m talking about. Instead, heat up your milk, add the cinnamon then add to the egg mixture. In this recipe, I have added the cinnamon after the cream has already been scalded.

This recipe will produce about 1 quart of batter, enough for eight 4 oz. dishes.

• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1 cup pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)*
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• ½ tsp. cinnamon, ground
• ¼ tsp. nutmeg, ground
• 1 oz fresh ginger, grated
• ¾ oz. powdered gelatin
• 3 oz. cold water


1. In a small sauce pot, combine the cream, milk, ginger, vanilla and nutmeg.
2. Bring to a boil and remove from heat immediately.
3. While the cream is still hot, add the cinnamon.
4. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
5. Measure 3 oz. of cold water into a mixing bowl.
6. Add the powdered gelatin and let it bloom (soften/dissolve) for 2 minutes.
7. Pass the milk through a chinois or fine sieve.
8. Add the warm milk mixture and mix well.
9. Add the pumpkin and mix well.
10. Pass the batter through a chinois or fine sieve.
11. Pour into 4 oz. cups and set for 2-4 hours in the fridge.

*To use fresh pumpkin, half a pie pumpkin and scrape the seeds. Place cut side down on an oiled pan with 3 oz water and cover with foil. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. When cool, scrape the pumpkin with a spoon and puree smooth. If the pumpkin is excessively wet, you may want to put it in a warm pan over a medium flame to dry it out, stirring often.

Cranberry Sauce

• 8 oz. fresh/frozen cranberries
• 1 cup apple cider
• 1 cup water
• ½ cup sugar


1. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pot with a lid.
2. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 40 minutes.
3. Puree till smooth in a blender.
4. Pass though a chinois or fine sieve.
5. Adjust sweetness with more sugar or honey to your liking.

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