by Kate Heyhoe
The absolute most requested recipe at Global Gourmet is for the popular dessert known as Tiramisù, which in Italian means "pick me up." It's not just the combination of ladyfingers drenched in espresso and liqueur, highlighted with a blast of shaved chocolate, that makes people swoon. These ingredients sparkle in intensity, but the real magic element which carries these flavors to your tastebuds is the creamy, whipped cloud-like mascarpone cheese.
Mascarpone is sometimes described as Italian cream cheese, which really doesn't do it justice. Softly spreadable like cream cheese, mascarpone delivers a much mellower tang. It's richer and more buttery with a fat content of between 70 and 75 percent, which gives it a velvety mouthfeel. (In fact, if the fat content were any higher, it would be butter.) Like cream cheese, mascarpone can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. In many cases, I use it to replace heavy cream, especially in pasta dishes.
Mascarpone ranges in color from white to straw-yellow. It's often called a triple-crème cheese, but technically it's not a cheese at all, as it uses no rennet or starter. It's a clotted cream, made from cream that has been acidulated to release its mositure. If necessary, you can freeze it, but it may separate upon thawing. If so, just make sure it's very cold then whisk it back into shape.
Mascarpone used to be hard to find, but now even supermarkets sell mascarpone, usually the American made brand BelGioioso. Italian delis, cheese shops and gourmet markets may stock Italian mascarpone, imported from its original birthplace of Lombardy, and some very good local artisanal brands. Sample the cheese if you can—a good mascarpone should be completely smooth, slightly sweet, without any saltiness or bitterness.
If you can't find mascarpone, try using cream cheese or ricotta whipped until smooth. Then add a bit of heavy cream, sour cream, butter or a combination to mimic mascarpone's to-die-for richness.
Even the most simple dishes made with mascarpone taste elegant and luxurious. I make an instant appetizer by placing a layer of sliced prosciutto on plastic wrap, adding a layer of fresh basil leaves and then mascarpone, and rolling into a cylinder; wrap tightly, chill and slice into rounds.
The recipes below demonstrate the versatility of this lush ingredient, from sweet to savory. Or, you can enjoy it quite simply as the Italians do, by placing a dollop on a plate and topping with sweet, fresh fruit, slathering it onto a pastry, or stirring it into a soup or pasta sauce.
Credit: Photo of Coeur à la Crème above from Simple French Desserts
Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2002