Tiramisu & Chocolate Martini

Mascarpone (mahs-kar-POH-neh) is not actually a cheese (no starter or rennet is used to produce it), but it is always included in the cheese family when the subject of relatives come up. And in the Italian arsenal of cheeses it stands tall. A rich and lush cow’s milk cheese, mascarpone is double or triple cream, which means heavy-duty milk fat (up to 75 percent). The beauty of this cheese lies not only in its richness and incomparable goodness but also in its versatility. As you will note below, I have used mascarpone in a simple application pertaining to a couple of pasta dishes; however, mascarpone is an essential and important ingredient when making tiramisu.

Mascarpone will hold its own in a simple dessert in which fresh berries are folded into it. I like to add some confectioner’s sugar to mascarpone, whip it until it is creamy-smooth, then layer it in a parfait glass with slices of fresh strawberries. Another way I use mascarpone is to swirl a tablespoon (or two) into a tomato sauce for pasta. The mascarpone gives the tomato sauce a luxuriously rich flavor (the idea is that it cuts some of the acidity in the tomatoes).

Domestic brands of mascarpone are every bit as good (and a lot less expensive) as imported brands, so buy locally.

Classic Tiramisu
This recipe follows closely that of how tiramisu was made in the beginning (using a custard or zabaione). Also, this was the way I taught students to make it at my cooking school. There are many shortcuts to making this great dessert, but if you take the long way home your customers will be, as the word “tiramisu” implies, lifting you up with praise.

4 extra-large egg yolks
1 whole egg
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon dry Marsala
8 ounces mascarpone
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces espresso or brewed strong coffee, cooled
24 ladyfingers (savioardi)
Cocoa powder

Make the zabaione. Put the egg yolks, the whole egg, and the sugar in a double boiler arrangement over simmering water. Whisk the eggs constantly until they thicken into a light custard. Add the Marsala and combine. Whisk a bit more. Turn the zabaione out of the bowl into a pan to cool.

Cream the mascarpone. Set aside. Beat the whipping cream to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar. Beat to the stiff peak stage.

Fold the mascarpone into the whipped cream, then fold that mixture into the cooled zabaione.

Assembly: Use a pan or glass dish that is about 8 inches by 8 inches. Working one by one, dip a ladyfinger into the cooled espresso. A quick dip in and out (the ladyfingers will absorb more of the coffee than you think) works best.

Put a thin layer of the zabaione cream over the bottom of the pan. Fit 12 ladyfingers into the pan (trimming as needed). Layer half of the remaining cream mixture over the ladyfingers.

Fit 12 more ladyfingers into the pan (dipping each into the espresso first). Layer in the rest of the cream mixture and smooth it out.

Screen (sift) the cocoa powder liberally over the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight (or at least 4 hours). Serve in squares portioned to about two and one-half inches square.

Tiramisu & Chocolate Martini
This tasty dessert goes together in a few simple steps, since the zabaione or custard is left out. The presentation is quite dramatic and the flavor is quite delicious. Use a deep martini glass or any type of deep ice cream glass.

Using the same techniques I described in the Classic Tiramisu recipe, combine the mascarpone with the whipped cream (the stiff peak stage). Just before serving, dip one end of each ladyfinger in the espresso. Space four ladyfingers into a deep martini glass (dipped end down) leaving the center (a crater effect) open.

Spoon the mascarpone mixture into the center of the glass, filling the glass (depending on the size about three-fourths of the way). Shave curls of semi-sweet chocolate over the cream mixture. Serve at once.

Fusilli with Mascarpone and Prosciutto

The silky richness of the mascarpone cheese mingling with the sweetness of the prosciutto is the flavor center of this dish. The mascarpone is dropped over the cooked pasta in tablespoons, and mixed into the pasta just to coat. The complement to this dish is the elegant prosciutto di parma; it stands on its own delicate flavor, so no cooking is necessary.

Yield: 4 servings as a first course (scale up in direct proportion)

3/4 pound fusilli or other spiral-shaped pasta
3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup mascarpone cheese
¼ pound prosciutto, sliced thin and chopped coarse
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain thoroughly.

Put the cooked pasta into a sauté pan set over medium-high heat.

Add the butter and stir to combine. Add the Parmesan and stir once more to combine. Add the mascarpone, dropping it in dollops over the pasta. Toss gently just to combine. Add the prosciutto and combine with the pasta.

Portion among four heated pasta bowls. Serve.

You can use this basic idea to create a pasta dish with four cheeses. Once the pasta has been cooked, add it to the sauté pan. Add the butter. Blend in a combination of cheeses (I use ¾ cup of mascarpone, ½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola, ½ cup grated Asiago, and 2 ounces Parmesan).

Cook and stir until the cheeses have blended. You don’t need to use any heavy cream (that’s a dish for another time); the combination of cheeses will carry the dish Portion among four heated pasta bowls. Serve.