If you've never had mascarpone cheese, it's what I imagine biting into a thick stratocumulus cloud would taste like: light and fluffy, but with a glossy heft.. Much like other fresh cheeses, including cottage cheese, queso blanco and cream cheese — which is probably the closest American equivalent to mascarpone — mascarpone is an acid-set cheese, which means it's coagulated using the milk's natural lactic acid or naturally-occuring acid.
In the case of mascarpone, it's traditionally made by adding a few tablespoons of lemon juice to a pint of heated heavy cream. The resulting flavor is, of course, deeply creamy with a slight citric tang. This makes it ideal for a variety of culinary applications, from spreading it on toasted bagel to whipping it into cheesecake.
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But my current favorite usage is adding a tablespoon or two to a batch of pasta sauce for a luxe, velvety touch. The flavors work exceptionally well with roasted vegetables, including roasted red peppers and tomatoes.
I use a mix of the two in this simply delicious sauce, which has only five ingredients (excluding salt and pepper and cooking oil). Jarred is great, as is the stuff you can buy off the olive bar at your supermarket. For pre-packaged, I like Murray's or Divina; you can also follow Ina Garten's recipe here for stellar results. Lightly caramelized shallots and chopped fennel add a real depth of flavor, too.
Then comes a swirl of mascarpone, which makes the sauce impossibly creamy without it feeling too weighed down. This sauce served over basic pasta is a gorgeous meal in itself, but have fun with some additions. Fresh basil is always a good idea and hot Italian sausage would play really well with the fennel.
RECIPE: The Creamiest Red Pepper Pasta Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 16-ounce jar of roasted red peppers
- 7 ounces of roasted red tomatoes
- 1 bulb of fennel, roughly chopped
- 1 shallot, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of mascarpone
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, add a glug or two of olive oil — just enough to coat the surface of the pan, and add the shallot and fennel. Cook until the edges are just browning on the fennel and the shallots are a little jammy, about five minutes.
2. Transfer the fennel and shallots to a food processor, along with the roasted red peppers (including the liquid from the jar) and roasted red tomatoes. Pulse the ingredients until they are fully blended.
3. Add the mascarpone to the sauce and blend again, until the pasta sauce takes on a smooth, cohesive consistency; color-wise, it will look a little bit like vodka sauce.
4. From here, add to your pasta of choice. Feel free to add a splash or two of reserved pasta water to the sauce to reach your desired consistency.
More Italian-American recipes:
- On Porchetta: An ode to the East Village stalwart
- Beyond Chicken parmesan? Notes on alt-milks and vegan cheese from an Italian kitchen
- Want impossibly crisp chicken parmesan? Try this simple sheet pan layering trick