Black Pepper Panna Cotta & Red Wine Strawberries

June 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm 13 comments

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (main)

I bought a carton of strawberries.

I did it against my better judgment—the berries were suspiciously big and still a little out of season, not to mention overpriced. They were so red I couldn’t help but feel suspicious.

But I bought them anyway because I wanted to make panna cotta, and I thought berries would make the plate prettier. Plus, I’d found a half-cup of cheap cabernet in the fridge, forgotten by the apartment’s previous tenants, and I figured that would be enough to make mediocre berries taste good.

I went home and got to work, chilling the panna cottas and reducing the wine to a slow-bubbling glaze. After all that, I popped open the box of strawberries. I was surprised—they actually looked really good. Well, I thought, I’m glad they’ll photograph nice. I scooped up a handful, ran them under water, and let them tumble onto a cutting board, which slowly pinkened with juice. Before slicing, I picked up one of the smaller berries, pinched off the green, and popped the whole thing in my mouth.

Wow.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (strawberry)

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (spoon)

With one bite I was transported home to Seattle, to our front yard, to my mom’s strawberry patch.

She planted the seeds when I was a senior in high school. They’ve grown prolifically since then, the leaves a dense carpet. The berries are tiny, thimble-sized, and redder than roses. They’re profusely floral, like perfume in your palms, so fragrant you taste them before you’ve parted your lips. Each bite melts on your tongue and the sweetness probably causes cavities.

They’re the best strawberries I’ve ever had.

One year, I infused some into a jar of bourbon. Another time, I made shortcakes with thick dollops of real cream. But they’re always best as-is, still warm from the sun, by the bowl-full. My dad likes to dip them in black pepper, a preference I found off-putting until I tried it. You can’t actually taste the pepper—like salt on chocolate, it simply enhances the berry itself.

Once I’d settled on red wine strawberries, I added pepper to the panna cottas, without hesitation.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (closeup)

The grocery store strawberries weren’t as good as my mom’s. Not even close. But they were outrageously better than I expected. The panna cottas were, too.

I was nervous they would stick to their molds, but each panna cotta wobbled right onto the plate. The texture was perfect—-firm enough to hold a shape, yet soft and creamy as pudding. The edges were smooth as marble. I’d originally imagined the pepper sprinkled throughout, and I was disappointed they had settled down instead. But on second glance, I liked the way it looked—-pure white with black flecks crowning the top, like caviar, gently trickling down.

And the berries. Glossy, sweet, and superbly robust. The color contrast was gorgeous. I didn’t regret stirring them into the red wine reduction, even though I usually like to eat delicious fruit as-is.

I’ll save that simple happiness for the next time I’m home.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (half eaten)

A few notes about this recipe. The pepper wasn’t as spicy as I’d hoped, but the subtlety was lovely. If you want to really taste the pepper, though, add more, maybe even twice as much. I used a vanilla bean, which I think made it better (and prettier,) but you can also use extract. Finally, if you aren’t planning to turn out the panna cottas (just keep them in the molds, wine glasses, teacups, whatever) you could try using a tad less gelatin for an even softer texture.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta
Tweaked from David Lebovitz, who tweaked from Judy Witts
Makes 8 servings

4 cups (1l) heavy cream
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
6 tablespoons (90ml) cold water

Stir the heavy cream, sugar, black pepper, and vanilla bean (split lengthwise, using both the seeds and the pod) in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, then immediately remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes.

While the flavors infuse, lightly grease eight custard cups with a neutral oil (I used canola). Sprinkle the gelatin onto the cold water in a medium bowl and let sit for 5 – 10 minutes.

After the half an hour is up, remove the vanilla bean pod and gently reheat the mixture.

Pour the warm cream over the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Pour the panna cotta into the prepared molds and refrigerate until set, 2 – 4 hours.

To unmold the panna cottas, I dipped the molds part-way into a bowl of warm water, then ran a knife around the edge of each cup. Flip onto a plate and gently wiggle the cup until the panna cotta lets go. Serve with red wine strawberries, or whatever you like.

Red Wine Strawberries
Also adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes enough to accompany the panna cottas

1 cup (250ml) red wine
6 tablespoons (100g) sugar
1 to 2 small baskets of strawberries (about 8 ounces, 200g)

Heat the red wine and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until it thickly bubbles. Let the red reduce into a syrup, until only half of it remains (1/2 cup, 120 ml). Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Toss the strawberries (washed, hulled, and sliced) in the red wine reduction. Let sit for a minute or two, then spoon beside the panna cottas. They would also be incredible on cheesecake or vanilla ice cream.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jenna  |  June 21, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    This looks delicious!!! I am so so happy you are writing again here, you are such a beautiful story teller. I get a thrill every time I see a new post of yours in my inbox!! :)

    Reply
  • 2. Chef Tom Minchella  |  June 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Looks Beautiful. I will have to try this!

    Reply
  • 3. Tina @ bitemeshowme  |  June 23, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Just stunning. Love the addition of the black pepper!

    Reply
  • 4. hannah @ bake five  |  June 24, 2013 at 2:43 am

    well, nothing like your own patch of strawberries (:

    Reply
  • 5. Ashley Bee  |  June 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I made a Greek Yogurt panna cotta once that was just a bit too sour. I’ll have to try this traditional one sometime soon :) Plus, don’t worry, New England berries are delightful. Check out a Farmer’s Market next time for prime berries. Like our corn, I feel like nothing else compares.

    Reply
  • 6. Yii-Huei  |  June 25, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Lovely! Great to see that you’re back on to blogging :)

    Reply
  • 7. Alex  |  June 27, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Great to see you back! I love your posts and think the inspiration might get me back into baking so thank you! :)

    Reply
  • 8. Sarafina  |  June 28, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    You are such an inspiring baker/writer/photographer! I just found this and it is the first blog I’ve ever subscribed to. I am 15, and love to bake, and so it is nice to see that there are other bakers my age! Even if you are older now ;)

    Reply
  • 9. Alyssa  |  July 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Wow, I’ve never tried black pepper on a dessert before, but I want to try it now :)

    Glad to see you blogging again!

    Reply
  • 10. kellybakes  |  July 11, 2013 at 10:27 am

    How lovely! I’ve never had the combination of black pepper and strawberry before, but I’m curious enough to try these. I’ve been following your blog since you started and I’m glad to see you’re back to posting again! Enjoy your summer!

    Reply
  • […] TUNED! And we’re getting berry seasonal… with ALL THE BERRIES. 17 and baking’s black pepper panna cotta with red wine strawberries. We revisit the HORRORS of maraschino cherries and Autumn gives us the low-down on how to make […]

    Reply
  • 12. Dan  |  July 23, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Before I tasted your homegrown strawberries, I would have read your description and been like, “Seriously? How good can strawberries be? STRAWBERRIES CAN’T MELT ON YOUR TONGUE.”
    But I would have been dead wrong. Those strawberries from your garden were divine. Speaking of which, so was this panna cotta :P

    Reply
  • 13. Lisa  |  February 25, 2014 at 9:21 am

    How beautiful! Berries and panna cotta – sign me up! :)

    Reply

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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