In this instructable, I'll use a molecular gastronomy kit and transform balsamic vinegar into chewy pearls, to create a dessert with a savory kick. I just came back from Italy, and we visited a 3rd generation family-owned food shop, otherwise known as foodie heaven! I tried a lot of cheese, prosciutto, salami, and a ton of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. It amazed me how subtle differences in making the vinegar or oil can make such a big difference in their flavor and color. Italians even used oil and vinegar in sweet or dessert applications, which was really interesting. So, when I came back and found the Oil and Vinegar contest, I knew I needed to enter, and I came up with this recipe!
When writing this instructable, I decided that using my molecular gastronomy kit would not only set it apart from other entries, but it would also make the dish super stunning. Molecular gastronomy is the division of food science which studies how food is molecularly altered. A molecular gastronomist can literally turn strawberry into spaghetti or chocolate into a foam, or in this case, balsamic into pearls!
Panna cotta (a sort of rich Italian pudding similar to flan) and strawberries both paired well with the balsamic pearls, (just search google for "strawberries and balsamic!"), and their sweetness really balanced out the acidic, savory vinegar.
Even though I might have gone a little crazy, I felt the end result was awesome (my mom loved it for her birthday!) and it was gorgeous!
*If you would like to make this dish without the vinegar pearls, skip them and simply drizzle balsamic over the panna cotta and strawberries. The end result wont look nearly as stunning or pretty, though!
Step 1: Gather Ingredients
For the panna cotta (serves 6):
1/4 cup of warm milk or water
1 (.25) oz gelatin packet
2 1/2 cups of heavy cream
1/4 cup of olive oil, plus more for oiling
2/3 cup of sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract
For the balsamic pearls:
Glass filled with olive oil
2/3 cup of high-quality balsamic vinegar (not vinaigrette!)
2 grams of agar-agar powder (a seaweed-based powder that will gel the balsamic; I'm using a packet from a MOLECULE-R kit)
For the caramelized strawberries:
1 pint of strawberries, quartered and hulled
2 tbsp brown or white sugar
1 tsp of olive oil
2 tbsp of butter
Ramekins, wineglasses, or molds (I'm just using a muffin tin)
Step 2: For Panna Cotta: Boil Panna Cotta Ingredients
In a pot, whisk together the cream and sugar, and boil it over medium-high heat. Be careful! Make sure it doesn't boil over. Then, in a separate bowl, whisk the gelatin into the warm milk/water until gelatin is dissolved. Bring the heat to medium-low, and pour in the gelatin mixture, vanilla, and olive oil. Whisk like crazy for a minute or two or until gelatin is fully dissolved.
In Italian, panna cotta means "cooked cream," which is pretty accurate considering the fact that the dessert is, well, cooked, and because it is mainly made up of cream. It's similar to the Spanish flan, except without the eggs or custard.
Step 3: Set the Mixture
With your hands, lightly grease six ramekins, wineglasses, or similar-sized molds with olive oil. (I'm using a muffin tin and putting silicone cupcake liners in some of the holes). Remove panna cotta from heat and pour it into the molds. Chill for at least four hours. Meanwhile...
Step 4: For the Balsamic Pearls: Chill Oil
...Fill a large glass with olive oil and put it in the freezer to chill for half an hour. Make sure to leave room in the glass for the balsamic! The glass needs to be tall so the pearls will have time to solidify as they sink to the bottom.
Step 5: Boil the Vinegar and Agar-agar
Boil the agar-agar with the balsamic over medium-high heat, stirring until the powder is dissolved.
Agar agar is a sort of jelly-like substance that comes from seaweed. Agar agar powder will gel the balsamic, allowing it to turn into the weird-but-delicious pearls that we'll make!
Step 6: Make the Pearls
Now the cool part: remove the balsamic from heat and take the chilled oil out of the freezer. Fill the syringe with the vinegar mixture and squeeze to drizzle the vinegar into the oil. When the vinegar hits the cold oil, the drops will solidify into little pearls. Some of them might not fall to the bottom immediately, but that's fine. Stir the oil so they will all fall to the bottom and solidify. Keep the pearls in the oil until ready to be served
Step 7: Caramelized Strawberries
Right before you want to serve the panna cotta, start making the strawberries.
Toss the berries in sugar and set aside. Meanwhile, heat butter and olive oil in a pan over high heat. Right now, you're trying to brown the butter to help add that awesome caramelized flavor. Stir the butter to coat the pan and keep a close eye on it! Browned butter can burn in a matter of seconds! Once the butter is golden brown and smells delicious, add the strawberries. Really stir until they have a caramelized exterior on all sides, and again, really try not to burn!
Step 8: Assembling the Dish
Take the fully chilled panna cotta out of the fridge and unless you are using a wineglass, unmold. To unmold, you want to submerge the molds into warm water until the panna cotta begins to loosen up. Then, use a butter knife to loosen the edges of the ramekin. Turn the mold upside down onto the serving dish and jiggle it a bit until it falls out.
Place the caramelized strawberries on and around the panna cotta and make it look pretty! Make sure to include the sauce. Then, using a slotted spoon, scoop out the balsamic pearls from the olive oil and place them on the panna cotta to form a mound, on top. If you want, drizzle a little balsamic and olive oil for a finishing touch.
Voila! A gorgeous and delicious dessert to impress everyone! Bon appétit!
I always want to make my instructables really practical, easy, and straightforward. Especially since this is my very first instructable, I would love your comments, and again, if you like this instructable, please give it your vote in the Oil and Vinegar contest!
My sources were CHERYLA33's recipe on Allrecipes.com, myhumblekitchen.com, MoleculeR, Chef Andrew E. Cowen, America's Test Kitchen, and Alton Brown's "Good Eats".