Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summertime Desserts using Mascarpone Cheese

I purchased a number of ingredients last week for recipes I had intended to make but never managed to complete.  Of particular concern was the mascarpone cheese which I don't buy on a regular basis. Too good to let go to waste I was anxious to put it to good use. Coincidentally, summer weather finally arrived here in Michigan, and I mean arrived with a vengeance! We went from cold, rainy 50 degree days to hot and humid 90 degrees in an instant. My thoughts, as a result, went to looking for something cold and refreshing.

While perusing a number of cookbooks for ideas I came across a recipe for a simple lemon sorbet enriched by a large dollop of mascarpone cheese. Sounding wonderful, I couldn’t resist giving it a try. The recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, jamie’s italy, which provides a collection of Italian recipes inspired by the country’s local cooks.

The recipe for the sorbet is super simple and requires only a few ingredients – water, sugar, lemons and the mascarpone. The end product is both very sweet and quite lemony tart with the mascarpone lending a rich, creamy mouth feel to the dessert.  The recipe makes about 2 cups, not enough for a crowd, but plenty for 4 servings as one can only handle a few small scoops of this super sweet treat.

I still had six more ounces of mascarpone to use.  Though not enough for a tiramisu I knew I had enough to make a substantial dessert for my husband and I.  Inspired by the filling used in a tiramisu I put together an easy Italian inspired parfait.  I started with the filling which is essentially a tiramisu filling without the richness of eggs or the addition of any liquor.  Continuing the Italian theme I sandwiched the filling between layers of crumbled chocolate cookies from an Italian brand I purchased from my local Italian specialty store. Of course any crisp plain cookie will do. Amaretti immediately comes to mind, but certainly a rich tea cookie or butter cookie would suffice. For the fruit layers, I used strawberries macerated in some raw sugar and Chambord liqueur (okay, not so Italian) to make them super sweet and syrupy.  

The sorbet can be made a few days in advance and kept frozen till needed. The parfaits are best eaten within a few hours so the cookie crumbs don’t turn to mush. The sorbet is incredibly sweet while the parfait much less so. Though my intention was to look for summertime treats both would be great any time of the year.

Sorbetto di Limone con Mascarpone

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup lemon juice (about 3-4 large lemons)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 heaping tablespoon mascarpone (I used a good 2 T.)

Pre-freeze a shallow container (this will allow the sherbet to freeze nice and quickly).  Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.  Once the liquid is clear and syrupy, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for 15 minutes, and then add the lemon juice and zest, mixing together. Next, add the mascarpone and stir until totally combined. 

Pour into your pre-frozen dish and return it to the freezer leaving it there for at least an hour before you check it.  If it has started to freeze, fork it up a bit.  Do this maybe every hour or so for the next 3 hours, after which it will be ready to eat.  It can now be kept for a couple of days in the freezer, with plastic wrap over the top – any longer and it will start to get ice crystals in it.  Always a real treat served on its own in a bowl or glass, but also delicious served with a fresh berry coulis sauce poured over the top.

Italian Parfait for Two

6 oz. mascarpone, slightly softened
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 T. powdered sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 T. lemon juice
1 c. plain chocolate cookies
¾ cup sliced fresh strawberries
Couple of teaspoons of raw sugar
2 T. Chambord liqueur

Prepare filling and store in refrigerator till ready to assemble parfaits. 
In large bowl whip together the heavy cream and powdered sugar till firm but not too stiff. In another bowl cream together the mascarpone cheese with the lemon zest and lemon juice.  Fold in the whipped cream. combine and refrigerate. 

Slice the strawberries and sprinkle with the raw sugar and Chambord, set aside. Let rest till syrupy.

Crumble cookies by hand and set aside.
To assemble, layer cookie crumbs in the bottom of the serving dishes. Top with some cheese filling and then with some strawberries. Repeat the layers one more time. Garnish with either some mint leaves, or any leftover cookie crumbs. If any strawberry syrup is left be sure to pour it over the top just before serving so as not to over saturate the parfaits. 

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