Yield: 4 servings; can be doubled

Cook’s notes: You could go nuts with variations on panna cotta, flavoring the cream while it heats. Try it with a little coffee (I use instant espresso powder), a fresh bay leaf, or a touch of almond extract. Generally, though, I prefer to leave my panna cotta fairly plain, and play around with the sauce instead. Try steeping flavorings in the cream, then straining the sauce before serving. Mint is fabulous (you can use mint extract, but try a few gently crushed or torn mint leaves instead); a sprig or two of rosemary is a surprising but sweet combination, as are a few basil leaves. A dash (no more) of anise extract also works well. Or add a touch of liqueur to the sauce; try Kahlua, Triple Sec, Chambord, (raspberry), or Sambuca. This recipe is adapted from my book Desserts From an Herb Garden. Whole Foods stocks dried lavender flowers with the bulk spices.

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
2 cups heavy cream, divided
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
¾ teaspoon dried lavender flowers
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate

Rinse four 6-ounce ramekins (measuring about 3 inches across) with cold water; drain but do not dry them. Set aside in a small baking pan.
Make panna cotta: In a small bowl or measuring cup, sprinkle gelatin over cold water and set aside. In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 ½ cups cream, sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer and let simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and gently whisk in softened gelatin until dissolved (try to avoid making too much foam). Divide among ramekins; cover loosely and chill 4 to 24 hours.
Make sauce: In a small saucepan bring lavender and remaining ½ cup cream to a boil. Off heat, whisk in chocolate and remaining ½ teaspoon vanilla until smooth. Pour sauce through a strainer to remove lavender. Chill if not using shortly (if sauce gets too thick, reheat it over low heat, whisking).
To serve, spoon a small amount of warm sauce onto each of 4 dessert plates. Run a thin knife around the inside rim of the ramekins and invert panna cotta over sauce. Drizzle with remaining sauce as desired.

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