Italians in Italy’s Lombardy region have known of this delicate, soft, double to even TRIPLE cream cheese for centuries, but it wasn’t until a dessert came along in the early 70s that it made this import as essential to pastry chefs as any dairy product of its kind.
And that dessert is, of course, Tiramisu (about minute twenty in).
Now, in the event you’ve never enjoyed mascarpone on its own, unlike its cousins (sour and cream cheese) that are sharper and more acidic, mascarpone is silky smooth, pale ivory in color and mildly buttery in flavor. On the European continent, its closest relatives are the English Clotted Cream and the French Crème Fraiche.
In recipes, mascarpone is as equally suited for spreading as it is in a filling. It can be used 1 for 1 in nearly any recipe that calls for either sour or cream cheese. What you’ll get in return is a richer, more buttery taste.
Besides Tiramisu, mascarpone cheese is used in sauces, like alfredo, in dips (especially fruit dips), in ravioli stuffing (along with other cheeses), in cheesecake batters, in cream pie fillings, and in shakes, soups, mashed potatoes, pizzas, casseroles and dozens of other desserts.
Because making the Tiramisu dessert takes a bit of time, I’ve found a way to enjoy it every bit as much with very little effort. Just purchase a package of Savoiardi (Italian lady fingers) at Nino’s (they’re located on our strawberry table). Then make yourself an espresso or a strong cup of coffee.
Dip your Savoiardi (like a donut) in the coffee, spoon on some of the dip below and then pop it into your mouth! Instant Tiramisu!
Tiramisu Crème Dip (Makes 2 Cups)
16 oz. Mascarpone Cheese
2 tsp. Instant Espresso (powder or granulated)
1⁄2 cup Powdered Sugar
1 TBSP Chocolate Syrup
1 TBSP Dark Rum
1. Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.
2. Adjust flavoring and sweetness to taste.
If you’d like to try mascarpone cheese in a recipe other than a dessert, I recommend trying it in a sauce recipe like this one:
Chicken With Farfalle & Mascarpone (Yield: Serves 4)
1 Cup Mascarpone Cheese
2 TBSP Fresh Lemon Juice
1 tsp Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
4 Cups Raw, Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, cut in strips
1 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 TBSP Fresh Garlic, chopped
1/3 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, chopped
¼ Cup Green Onions, chopped
¼ Cup Pine Nuts, whole
1 – 10 oz Bag Baby Spinach
1 lb Farfalle (Bow Tie) Pasta
¼ Cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
¼ Cup Buttered Bread Crumbs (Optional)
Cook farfalle in boiling salted water to al dente. Drain and reserve cooked pasta and ½ cup of the cooking water.
Stir together the lemon juice, mascarpone, and pepper. Set aside.
In a LARGE skillet, over medium-high heat, sauté chicken strips in ½ of the olive oil until just cooked and lightly browned. Reserve and keep warm.
In the same skillet, now over medium heat, sauté the pine nuts until lightly toasted. Add the garlic and green onion and sauté a moment longer.
To that sauté mixture, add back the chicken, the cooked pasta and the ½ cup of pasta water. Then add the sun-dried tomatoes and the uncooked spinach leaves. Cook this mixture over medium heat while gently stirring and folding the ingredients for 1 minute. Add the mascarpone mixture while stirring.
Bring the sauce within the mixture to a simmer and then season with salt and any additional pepper to taste.
Portion for service topped with Parmesan cheese and/or buttered bread crumbs.
Mascarpone isn’t just for desserts, and in truth, it’s more often found in non-sweet recipes overseas than the dish it became synonymous with in the states.
Stop by Nino’s soon and give this famous cheese a try.