Champagne Panna Cotta with Balsamic – Black Pepper Strawberries

1 Mar


The best food is inherently unreviewable.  Unable to be put into words.

And I don’t want you to think I’m getting all eggheady here, talking about ethereal food that can’t be conceived and lives in some other-worldly Platonic food dimension.  No.  I just mean food you can’t explain.  Food you can only taste by trying it yourself, not by listening to a menu shout that it “totally tastes like mac & cheese meets szechuan chicken meets THE SOUTH BRO”.  This ain’t the Guy Fieri Ranch Dressing Hour, folks.

When we’re confronted with something we don’t know, we retreat a lot to shit we already do know, which is lazy, but explainable.  We usually only get things in terms of the things we already have stored in our over-sized, largely useless brains.  Hell, we wouldn’t be able to form sentences without the freaking alphabet, right?  So when you sit down to some crazy, inspired food you’ve never conceived before, you don’t think “wow, I don’t know what this is, but it’s amazing”.  You think “well this tastes like that thing I had mixed with that other thing I had”.  Lazy, but accurate.

Which is why panna cotta is so damn good, because it defies that exact temptation.  It doesn’t give you the luxury of retreating to that laziness.  And you’re gonna try to go there, believe me.  Because it kinda seems like pudding, but it’s like a mousse, but it’s also like a crème brulee, but…it’s none of those things.  Nor will it ever be any of those things.  Any attempts to describe it just come out as jibberish, and eventually you’re forced to just concede and say “it’s just panna cotta”.

And that’s why it’s so damned good.

Panna Cotta:

1 ½ cups cold Champagne

4 teaspoons unflavored flavored gelatin

3 cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pinch salt


1 pound strawberries

2 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 pinch black pepper

Here’s how you do it:

First, the panna cotta.  This has to chill for at least a few hours, and ideally more, so don’t be an idiot and try to make them an hour before your dinner event or Game of Thrones watching party…thing.

Put a ½ cup of champagne in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top.  Let it sit for five minutes.

Get a small saucepan and stir the cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla together.

It shouldn't be bubbling any more than that.

It shouldn’t be bubbling any more than that.

Put it over medium heat, but for the love of god WATCH the damned thing.  Cream likes to boil.  A lot.  If you see it even thinking about beginning to bubble, take it off the fire.  You should be just barely able to put your fingertip in the cream when it’s warm enough.

Once that mixture’s warmed up, whisk in the gelatin stuff, then let the whole thing cool off for 5 minutes.

Whisk in the other cup of champagne, and drink the rest (let’s be honest, you were gonna do it anyway, weren’t you).

Pictured: Snobbery

Pictured: Snobbery

Pour the panna cotta into 8 ramekins, or martini glasses if you’re unnecessarily pretentious like I am, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least four hours, but do it overnight if you can help it.

Once the panna cotta’s been chilled, start on the strawberries.

Hull (that means cut the leafy tops off, people) and quarter the strawberries.

Get a small bowl and stir together the strawberries, sugar, vinegar, and pepper.  And yes, pepper sounds weird, but it brings out the flavor of the strawberries in a way that isn’t just sugar.  Get a strawberry milkshake if that’s what you want.  This ain’t that.

Let the strawberries sit for half an hour, giving them the occasional stir.

All that’s left is to take the panna cotta out, uncover, and spoon some strawberries on top.  And eat.

Choosing the beats this week is someone who’s made what may be the greatest music video I’ve ever seen, or at least one of them.  They, too, appreciate the subtle art of drinking way too much champagne and spilling it on something expensive.  Here’s UNIVORE:

We’ve given this some thought and have chosen Chet Atkin’s “Sunrise” (1985):

This tune is smooth to its core.  Its production is rich but clean, much like panna cotta itself. The guitar flourishes you hear in the middle and end of the tune are a perfect pairing with the black pepper kick of the dish. Mr. Atkins’ licks are sweet but balanced, much like the harmony between the rotundity of the strawberries and the acidity of the balsamic. This dish deserves elegant but dignified glassware and, like a jazzy effort from a country legend, should be savored and appreciated. Scott’s desert, coupled with this wonderful tune, teaches us how to celebrate and how not to feel too guilty about the things we feel compelled to consume. Invite your best friends to your house, follow this recipe meticulously, play this tune on repeat, and enjoy it all to the point where you either go insane or fall in love with everyone you know.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  Hell, I don’t think I could’ve even said anything remotely like that myself.  That’s why I picked these guys: because they get it.  They get that the good stuff just can’t be described, and more than that, that it shouldn’t be described.  Trying to do that just ends up reducing something unique and pure into a mishmash of stuff you already know.  And why go back there?  You already know it.

Stop describing, and just shut up, listen, and eat.

I’ll see you next time.

Univore consists of Nicholas Flandro and David Bachmann. Each hails from the Cuyahoga Valley region of Northeast Ohio, between Akron and Cleveland. They met while attending high school where they embarked on several sound and video projects.  They currently work out of Chicago’s west side and formed in February of 2010 with the ambitions of recording an album with local artist and friend Marco Casale, Casale Project (2010).  After the completion of Casale Project, Univore recorded two more albums Love Letters (2011) and Beasts from a Silk Womb (2013) and are currently working on a 4th album.

And in case you were wondering what that music video was:


One Response to “Champagne Panna Cotta with Balsamic – Black Pepper Strawberries”

  1. Shelly & Gene Greenberg March 2, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    Hi Scott, We always read and enjoy “Fresh Beats, Fresh Eats” but wanted you to know we both thought the Champagne Panna Cotta blog was exceptional. Really fun to read and the Chet Adkins music was an additional treat. We did think it was a bit “eggheadery” (or however you spell that) but that’s what we expect from our very own personal philosopher. Hope school is going well and you are staying warm. You said you loved that weather and you are certainly getting your share. Love, Grandma & Grandpa

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