I’ve been cooking with mascarpone, and I can’t recommend it enough. Right off the bat, let’s get into what mascarpone actually is — other than the sweet star of The Tiramisu Show. Originating in Italy, it’s a cultured, strained dairy product like creme fraiche and cream cheese, with a high fat content and extra-creamy consistency. If that sounds delicious, it’s because it is.
Here’s how it began. A few months ago, I accidentally grabbed a container of Vermont Creamery’s mascarpone, thinking it was the Temp-Tee cream cheese next to it in the refrigerated section, and didn’t realize until I’d gotten home and toasted a beautiful thick piece of sourdough. There was no way I was going back out to the supermarket. Don’t roll your eyes; I’m watching you through your screen’s camera.
Resigned to my fate, I spread a generous layer of mascarpone on that toast, where it melted slightly into a thick, glossy schmear. It has all the tangy dairy pleasure of cream cheese with a smooth buttery quality that’s extra-welcome on warm, crusty bread, and now I’ve basically switched from cream cheese to mascarpone on toast. I also cook (or finish, really) with cream cheese a fair amount — that’s why I was going for the Temp-Tee in the first place. It doesn’t spoil nearly as quickly as heavy cream, has a pleasant burst of luscious tang, doesn’t curdle when heated and creamifies things more clingily, if you will.
Here are a bunch of ways I’ve made use of this white gold: Stirred into tomato soup, chicken tikka masala, grits or risotto just before serving; instead of heavy cream in a creamy pasta dish or macaroni and cheese; subbed out for bechamel in lasagna; spread on sweet quickbreads (particularly pumpkin); instead of mayo on a sandwich; poked into the folds of a hasselback potato, spread on pizza dough instead of tomato sauce, spiked with lemon as a dip for artichoke leaves or finishing sauce for fish, used anywhere ricotta goes (like gnocchi), mixed with tomatillo salsa for enchiladas suizas, in pimento cheese, in creamed spinach, mixed with ketchup and horseradish for creamy cocktail sauce, beaten with eggs for a scramble and blended with literally anything to make “anything cream.”
What I’m saying is it’s a really agreeable medium — it wants to do whatever you want it to do. All you need to do in return is keep it in the fridge and use it sparingly to make things creamy.
Am I aware that it typically contains between 60 and 75% fat? I am. Does that scare me? No, we’re talking like, a once-a-week two-tablespoon-max habit that makes whatever you’re eating more satisfying so you stay fuller longer. Also, no cheese scares me. None.