Melissa Perello is the very talented chef/owner of the tiny San Francisco restaurant Frances.
It’s right across the street from my house and even in its first year, made the San Francisco Chronicle’s annual “Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants” list. Where it has stayed. G and I think of it as a sort of artist’s studio: personal, full of life, and bursting with creativity.
I found Melissa’s honey panna cotta when it was posted on the Tasting Table website but the recipe didn’t seem right to me—too much gelatin. And here’s a cautionary tale: I wrote to Tasting Table asking if they’d tested the recipe and if it was right. Yes on both counts, they assured me. I was having an email conversation with a pal about the recipe and she tried it. It turned out so hard it bounced. Or nearly so. I made the dessert three or four times over, with less gelatin each time, and took the results across the street for Melissa to try until she approved the result. The mistake crept in, I think, when she converted the recipe from gelatin leaves (which she uses in the restaurant) to powdered gelatin (which is what most of us use at home).
The version I’ve posted is slightly different than her original, at least the way she intended the original to be. I’ve added a bit more honey though the resulting dessert is still barely sweet. And since I love richness, I inverted her proportions of cream and buttermilk and substituted yogurt for the buttermilk. I’ve used nonfat Greek-style plain yogurt as well as nonfat plain yogurt. I planned to try whole milk yogurt but shopping habits (I only buy nonfat yogurt) kept interfering. What you use—whole, low-fat, nonfat yogurt or buttermilk—is your choice. Serve in small portions, using 1/2 cup ramekins or perhaps cool-looking tea or coffee cups.
Melissa likes to cook with local ingredients including honey. She developed the panna cotta using honey from Robert MacKimmie’s City Bees. He sells San Francisco neighborhood honey and each has a distinctive flavor. One of them used to be from my own backyard. But that is another story. I used a thyme honey from Provence that my neighbors brought home to me from their most recent trip—a sweet thank you for cat sitting. The dessert shows off the quality and flavors of whatever honey you use, so be sure to use a good one: perhaps from a beehive in your neighborhood.