Monday, July 28, 2008
This past May I had the pleasure of traveling to New York City with a group of young women to meet with some fashion executives from a popular label - a focus group of sorts - that is developing it's own line of casual lounge wear and underthings. It was a whirlwind three days, packed with tours of the city, town cars and taxis, and lots and lots of underwear. Suffice it to say, I was completely out of place amongst the fashionistas - I had earned a place on the trip by writing an article about Portland style, which for me usually means men's button-downs and Birkenstocks - but I was pleased to be honored with the experience. I mean, who turns down a free stay on Park Avenue?
The part of the trip that will stick with me forever - besides running around Times Square at 2 am with my sister who had come up from Princeton, NJ for an all-nighter with me - was the FOOD. I enjoyed one of the best Italian meals I've ever had at Borgo Antico, a block away from Union Square. It was a kick to see fashion editors, designers, models, and advertising CEOs toss off their (really high) heels and order up a storm, care of the expense account. Ah, fine food does taste best when the bill isn't an issue. We must have rattled off every appetizer, salad, and dessert to the waiter, who wasn't the least bit daunted by our party of 30. I'm rarely in such distinguished company, but what tickled me the most was that everyone was turning to me - little ol' me in a plain black dress (with a few drops of paint I noticed too late!) sipping a Shirley Temple- for food advice. All discussion of famous designers and fashion week (which I admit I have little to no interest in) moved off the table when I mentioned I knew a bit about the provenance of one of the french terms on the menu - I forget it now - and questions and food stories started flying. The food arrived and all class distinctions and purse-price competition disappeared as we all settled into our plate and were united as eaters.
The crowning glory of the night came after we were all stuffed from course after course of amazing, fresh food: Dessert! All the beautiful women shook their heads, politely declining the dessert menu, until one brave woman - bless her soul - said, 'Hey, let's just get everything and pass around a couple of forks - one bite won't kill you!' And, oh, my friends, those fancy ladies' faces shone with sweet relief - you just know they wanted to try everything but were afraid to be the only one who could eat another bite. My favorite was the panna cotta, a pure white, rich cream custard covered in chocolate sauce. So simple, but it was one of the most heavenly dishes I've ever had the pleasure of eating. The conversation went into the night, and as the gelato melted and the brownies were left only nibbled, we kept subtly dipping our spoons back into the creamy custard until it was gone. Piling into a cab at the end of the night, I knew I'd just experienced something magical.
Ever since that week, I have dreamed of the perfect panna cotta, asking everyone I know if they'd had any good variations at a local Portland eatery, but was always told one thing: It's so easy, just make it yourself! There are so many variations in all the posh food magazines, and I suppose I was simply intimidated by the extravagance of that first taste at Borgo, that I haven't tried to make my own until today, for Magazine Monday, a weekly challenge to clear out those recipe piles, started by the amazing Ivonne over at Cream Puffs in Venice. Over the past few months I've amassed quite the collection of panna cotta recipes, and finally tried one out.
The April 2007 issue of Southern Living featured a gorgeous white chocolate panna cotta, with a dark chocolate sauce that, at least aesthetically, echoed the Borgo Antico dessert. I took the opportunity to use up a few more jewels of the Oregon Berry Invasion that Dragonfruit brought home this morning, and had a bit of fun sharing the extra chocolate sauce with her (and our chins). The result was a well-balanced, creamy and sweet version of the classic panna cotta.
It definately didn't top the panna cotta of my dreams - I doubt anything ever will - but the first bite did take me back to that candle-lit table, surrounded by laughter and glittering jewelry, and the moment when everyone's self-conscious thoughts melted away into the perfect dessert.
You can find the recipe for White Chocolate Panna Cotta With Dark Chocolate Sauce here.