I can’t pass on dessert at any Italian restaurant if there’s panna cotta on the menu. Forget crème caramel or crème brûlée, because panna cotta is my manna. My preferred is panna cotta ai frutti di bosco. One of the very best I’ve eaten – first some 20 years ago, and several times since – is at Il Ciak, in Trastevere, Rome, where in autumn it comes served with a rich, lip-smacking berry sauce.
Lacking any fruits of the wood here in Malta, I was trying to think of a local autumnal substitute when out of the kitchen window, I spied my neighbour’s pomegranate tree. Laden with fruit, it’s resting conveniently on the wall, with some low-hanging fruit my side. I shimmy up to a toe-hole-sized ledge, grab two or three, and cook up a thick syrup to garnish the panna cotta. Surprisingly good, though I need a bit more sugar than expected as the fruit isn’t quite ripe yet (the tell-tale sign of ripeness is fruit splitting open).
Apparently, Caravaggio was a master of painting pomegranates in varying states of decay. I snap a few still lives of pomegranates on a pewter platter in homage. Pomegranates are darn hard to do much with apart from juice. But I think they’re in their element set off against the alabaster still life of my panna cotta, and very tasty too.
All images © Liz Ayling 2012