Personally I have never had cream curdle on me when cooking. If not watched it can quickly scald and boil over but if heated slowly it will thicken and reduce down to a rich sauce. There is no reason for it to curdle when cooking unless you are mixing it with some type of acid - such as lemon. I have added lemon purposely to cream in a pinch and in need of sour cream.
I would notice the difference between a cream sauce and a bechamel but I actually like both. I think the sweetness of the cream in this recipe will compliment well with the saltiness of the prosciutto. The texture of the bechamel would be different and would not be as sweet. I think a bechamel tends to pick up flavors that are introduced to it rather than have a stand alone taste and IMO the prosciutto would monopolize the dish.
While cream and panna may mean the same thing there are still different "types", for want of a better word, both here and in Italy. We have cream, whipping cream and heavy whipping cream --- the difference being the fat content. (Similar in a way to how we categorize milk)
I have noticed a difference in panna and panna da cucina that I buy at the market in Italy in that the panna da cucina sometimes is so thick that I need to spoon it out of the carton while the panna pours rather easily when shaken. (Perhaps some of the Italian members can tell me the difference)
Maria - I liked your term "skinnier version". I need to work on adapting many of my recipes to that format.