It all started when by mistake I bought too much mascarpone for my holiday cooking. I needed two cups of crème fraiche and one of mascarpone but I switched them around. So I wound up with three-quarters of a pound of leftover mascarpone, which went into the freezer until I could think what to do with it.
After a prolonged holiday binge of cookies and cakes and pies and tarts, I didn’t want to make any more desserts, so that ruled out gazillions of recipes, especially for tiramisù, which seems to be the world’s favorite dessert to make with mascarpone. Savory dishes were what I wanted.
As I browsed numerous recipes in my cookbooks and online, I began to realize that you can put mascarpone into almost any dish that wants a subtle creamy presence. That gave me my double-O designation to start to play with it.
First, in mashed potatoes. I added about a quarter-cup of mascarpone, rather than butter or milk, as I mashed three Yukon gold potatoes, to accompany a grilled steak for two. The mascarpone instantly disappeared into the potatoes, adding a gentle sweet-sour flavor and a velvety texture. We probably wouldn’t have been able to identify the difference as due to mascarpone if we hadn’t known it was there.
Next, in pasta sauce. Even though it was January, I had a hankering for a springlike sort-of-primavera pasta. I sauteed cut-up mushrooms and asparagus in butter and olive oil, tossed in freshly cooked vermicelli, and then stirred in several big dollops of mascarpone. Again, the mascarpone was immediately absorbed – you can’t see it at all in this photo – and again it gave the dish just a faint pleasant tanginess, very slightly different from a sauce made with heavy cream.
The dish didn’t even need to be dressed with grated parmigiano, though it did love freshly ground pepper. It was also very rich. Though I’d used only six ounces of pasta, Tom and I couldn’t come near finishing it all. The leftovers made an excellent – also very rich – fritatta.
Then in polenta. We had some veal stew meat in the freezer whose time it was to use. Tom created a tasty brown braise, with fresh sage leaves, dried porcini, a splash of white wine, and a tiny quantity of broth, in a new black Chamba ware pot we’d given ourselves for Christmas. These handmade clay cooking vessels from Colombia are wonderful for stews, sauces, and braises; in my mind, they’re the original slow cooker. When the braise was almost ready I made the polenta, stirring in mascarpone near the end of its cooking.
Another successful dish. The mystery-ingredient mascarpone made for a very creamy polenta, an excellent backdrop for the tender veal and its succulent gravy.
Likewise in risotto. I was getting the idea: Any kind of starch dish that likes cream will love mascarpone. I had some asparagus that didn’t get used the other day in the pasta, so I made a risotto with it. This time I didn’t add the mascarpone until the risotto was out of the pot and on the serving dish – you can actually see it in this photo – and that worked very well.
In fact, once stirred in, the mascarpone was more noticeable and interesting here than it was in the three previous dishes. It gave the risotto the lovely dense creaminess that usually comes when you add parmigiano near the end of the cooking, without the good-but-assertive flavor and slight gumminess that grated cheese provides. My version made a perfect accompaniment to some fairly delicate sauteed filets of scrod.
And . . . After these good meals, I still had a quarter-cup of mascarpone left in the refrigerator. So, determined not to let any mascarpone go to waste, I stirred it into a pair of scrambled eggs that I made as a lunch for myself. Again, a lush texture, only slightly different from using butter or cream. A little indulgence for me, combined with good, housewifely frugality, added up to a simple but tasty lunch: not bad for finishing off an unanticipated leftover.
All in all, this was a good learning experience. I now know a lot more about how to use mascarpone than I did before. It hasn’t been an item I buy very often, but given what I’ve found out about its versatility, it may very well show up on my shopping lists more frequently now.