December 2, 2023 | Rome, Italy

The magic mountain

By |2018-03-21T18:45:25+01:00July 21st, 2011|"In Provincia"|
Panacotta with wild cherries. Photos by Letizia Mattiacci.

live atop a magical mountain, 600 meters above sea level, a place of serene beauty where the body can rest and the mind can wander. Some parts of my house are 500 years old. It’s the perfect idyll, if only I didn’t have a B&B and cooking school to run and family, dog and garden to tend to.

I often try to imagine people’s living conditions 500 years ago, when my home was a medieval tower. The place that now delights my guests and gives them pause to relax and meditate must have a lonely and difficult place.

Take for example producing food.

My plants’ favorite hobby is baking to death. No matter how much I water them, the tough and stony soil eventually turns into a furnace and they wilt. I have wonderful rosemary bushes, lavender and geraniums, but there’s no way to cultivate eggplants, peppers or even potatoes. Same for fruit trees. In 10 years we’ve only managed a single healthy apricot tree.

That’s how I became a forager. I started seeking what’s available. For most of the year there are herbs, flowers and wild fruit.

I make jellies with anything I find: elderflowers, wild peaches, and blackberries. I sprinkle wild mint on a salad, infuse sausages with wild fennel, toss spaghetti with wild asparagus. The harvest is plentiful. So is the intensity of flavor it brings to my concoctions.

Here is my recipe for pannacotta, which I serve with sour cherry preserves. The cherries are so tart that only my dog Google likes them. The jelly is another story, rich in aromas. If you don’t live in the wilderness, you follow the same recipe using good quality organic preserve. Google (the dog) will approve.

Recipe (serves 6)

  • 4 leaves/8 gr. unflavored gelatin.

  • 300 ml full fat milk (1 and 1/3 cup).

  • 300 ml whipping cream ( 1 and 1/3 cup).

  • 140 gr. sugar (2/3 cup).

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

— Put the gelatin in cold water. Let it soak until softened, about 10 minutes.

— Whisk cream, sugar, milk and vanilla in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring a few times until the sugar dissolves and the cream begins simmering.

— Remove the gelatin from the water and add it to the milk and creamy mixture, stirring to dissolve. Divide the mixture among 6 dessert bowls.

— Cool desserts uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate until set (about 3 hours).

— A final note: Don’t reduce the amount of cream or the dessert might not set. Four sheets of gelatin are equivalent to one American or Canadian package. One envelope should firmly solidify two cups of liquid and softly solidify three. For pannacotta you need a soft set.

About the Author:

Letizia Mattiacci wrote the "In Provincia" column from 2011 through 2019.