I’ve worked hard to champion the everyday. To savour and appreciate the little things, like good conversation. Some of my best conversations have included food. But, bringing family and friends —old and new—together over a meal, doesn’t happen as often as it should. With life so chaotic and a constant need to move faster, it’s easy to forget to pause.
This reflection is obvious with my niece and nephew, who have grown up fast. They are teenagers. 13 and 16. Wise beyond their years. Cute. Kind. Loving. Talented in creative endeavours. I belong to the camp that believes it takes a village to raise children.
I try to be involved in every aspect of their lives. Being there when they need to talk about a concern. Helping them with homework. Encouraging them to try new things. Splurging on their latest passions and interests.
As their aunt (massi) I am honoured they still want to spend time with me, rather than heading to the mall with friends. Their idea of ‘quality time’ includes going to a restaurant or me cooking. I may not be a big eater, but I love to cook because from inside the kitchen, I can create something incredible. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to try new things and sometimes even astonish. Better yet, I enjoy sharing my latest creations with people I adore.
Slowly eating, almost lingering, while we laugh and talk about the most obscure of subjects. We’ve shed a few tears from our hilarity of inside jokes and stories. Time literally stops. Food brings us together. It connects us to each other. If you have never experienced this, it is indescribable how the time passes when you are surrounded by good food and good people. The energy is dynamic and regenerative.
I make too much food. We pass the plates around until all the food is gone. Talking, drinking, and then eating some more. Always ensuring we end the meal with dessert and a pot of earl grey tea.
In such instances, a knockout dessert is required. One that is secretly effortless, but provides the illusion I’ve slaved over a hot stove for hours. It should be delicate. Curbing guests from being sent into a complete food coma. I find panna cotta to be the perfect dessert to fit the criteria. If you’ve never eaten panna cotta, I’d have to say, you need to.
Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made simply by mixing cream, sugar and gelatine. It’s similar to creamy pudding and reminds me so much of Indian phirni or custard, but more sophisticated. It’s painfully easy, but the result is something altogether luxurious and sublime—silky and light.
This version, served with a raspberry pomegranate jelly, tastes like a flavour explosion. I’d even say it is the chocolate cake of the charmed custard world: with every bite you take, you will just want more. You may even be tempted to lick the serving dish. The tarty fruit layer cuts the rich cream, and when it’s all gone, every last bite, you’ll be thinking one thing. Let’s make more!
In this version cardamom, black pepper, and vanilla shine. To those unbeknownst, the cardamom plant is a perennial herb belonging to the same family as ginger and turmeric — and is a distant relative of the banana. The cardamom lends a sophisticated herbaceous undertone — deep and perfumed, slightly resinous and sweet.
The black pepper is subtlety spicy and adds a wonderful unexpectedness. The woody and floral fragrance evokes a citrusy floral note. The vanilla, real vanilla (which I recommend using ALWAYS) and not the imitation variety has a deliciously complex flavour. Note: I used vanilla extract because it was on hand, but this dessert would be even better with the use of a vanilla bean.
2 and ½ cups whipping cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 green cardamom pods
1 sachet gelatin powder
¼ cup boiling water
Pour boiling water into a medium bowl and sprinkle gelatin on the water, stirring until thoroughly dissolved and blooms.
Pour cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Monitor heat carefully and whisk constantly to prevent cream from thickening at bottom. Lightly crush cardamom pods by gently flattening with the flat side of a knife, and add to cream. You want the pods to be split, so they will infuse the panna cotta with flavour, but are not broken. Add sugar gradually, stirring over low heat until dissolved. Heat the cream gently, stirring frequently, allowing flavours to infuse for at least 15-20 minutes. Cream should be hot and fluffy, but do not allow it scald. Remove and discard cardamom pods. Pour hot cream in a thin stream into the gelatin, whisking, until gelatin is fully dissolved into cream. Divide cream among panna cotta molds. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for a minimum of two hours, or until set.
Raspberry Pomegranate Jelly
1 cup pomegranate juice
½ cup raspberries
2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons sugar
1 generous pinch of black pepper
In a small bowl, sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the cold water. Let bloom for five minutes. In a small saucepan, combine the gelatin, sugar, pomegranate juice and raspberries. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the gelatin dissolves. Do not let it boil. Remove from heat and add black pepper. Cool briefly. Pour the raspberry pomegranate jelly over the panna cottas, and return to the refrigerator for at least four hours.