Food & Drink: Mascarpone Cheese Has a Life Outside of Tiramisu

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You probably know mascarpone cheese as a key player in tiramisu, the chocolatey, espresso-infused layered Italian dessert. But it’s so much more than that. Make extra creamy scrambled eggs by folding mascarpone cheese into the mix or spread it on a piece of toast and top it with smoked salmon and chives.

But what exactly is mascarpone cheese? And how is it different from sour cream, cream cheese, or crème fraîche…or is it? Mascarpone is essentially an Italian version of cream cheese, though with a slightly higher fat content; mascarpone must have 40 percent fat, while cream cheese only needs to have 33 percent. Cream cheese is also tangier than mascarpone, which tends toward the richer side of things. In fact, mascarpone most closely resembles French crème fraîche. Both are soured by lactic culture, but mascarpone is a little sweeter and milder. That’s why it’s so prominent in sweet desserts; while sour cream, for example, can certainly add body and richness to cheesecake, coffee cake, and pound cake, it isn’t exactly a flavor most home bakers put front and center (the exception being this wildly delicious Peach & Sour Cream Ice Cream from Alice Medrich).

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All this to say, mascarpone is a lot more versatile than we give it credit for. It works quite well in both sweet and savory dishes. But every so often, you may struggle to find mascarpone cheese in some grocery stores. Rather than abandoning ship altogether, take a peek inside your refrigerator. Mascarpone cheese is surprisingly easy to make, so you don't even need to run out to a specialty grocery store to track some down. In short, all you need to do is bring heavy cream to a simmer on the stovetop; add a little bit of lemon juice and continue to heat it for a few more minutes, then let it cool. Strain it over cheesecloth and chill it in the refrigerator overnight before using.

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We know that mascarpone cheese can transform sweet things like sorbet, carrot cake, lemon pie, cupcakes, and fruit blintzes. But what about creamy pasta, risotto, soups, and roasted vegetables? Turns out mascarpone can work wonders with savory recipes, too. Here are so many ways to take advantage of mascarpone’s ultra-creaminess to make your savory meals surprisingly rich—with very minimal effort (promise).

Our Go-To Mascarpone Cheese Recipes

1. Smear it

Use mascarpone on a bagel in lieu of cream cheese for a next-level smoked salmon supreme, or spread it on seedy rye toast to make open-faced sandwiches. Some topping suggestions:

  • Smoked trout and pickled red onions
  • Cucumbers, salt, and sesame seeds
  • Roasted or sautéed mushrooms (or any leftover roasted vegetables hanging in your fridge)
  • Thinly shaved asparagus and lemon juice
Stuart Brioza's Mushrooms in Pickle-Brine Butter © Provided by Food52 Stuart Brioza's Mushrooms in Pickle-Brine Butter Stuart Brioza's Mushrooms in Pickle-Brine Butter

2. Make Soup

Add it to freehand puréed vegetable soups for maximum richness with minimum work. Good news: just a spoonful will go a long way here. Or use mascarpone as a creamy garnish to cool the heat of spicy tomato soup and add a creamy touch to summery gazpachos. Bonus: it looks super pretty when you swirl it in with your spoon.

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Barbara Lynch's Spicy Tomato Soup © Provided by Food52 Barbara Lynch's Spicy Tomato Soup Barbara Lynch's Spicy Tomato Soup

3. Spread it

Spread it onto pizza in lieu of tomato sauce, or dollop small spoonfuls onto just-out-of-the-oven-'za for creamy, melty pockets, sort of like the inside of burrata. May I suggest dolloping some onto a margherita to make it uber fancy, or spreading it thinly onto dough and topping it with shaved summer squash and mint?

Mascarpone also works very well as a creamy layer in savory tarts, especially if those tarts involve blistered vegetables like eggplant and zucchini and lots of herbs. Or juicy tomatoes. Or incorporate it into a gratin, especially if that gratin contains cauliflower or hearty greens. Just spread a little between the vegetable layers with a spoon, or else dollop it on top.

Chard Gratin © Provided by Food52 Chard Gratin Chard Gratin

4. Scramble it

Add mascarpone to your scrambled eggs. I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but it will make them incredibly rich and special, and so much better than your average Wednesday morning scramble, even though they take no extra time. Merrill Stubbs likes to whip mascarpone into her eggs pre-scramble, but I like to add it halfway through the cook time so that I come across melty cheese pockets mid-bite. (Side note: Melty Cheese Pockets would make a great band name.) If you're feeling fancy, you can also use a swipe of mascarpone as a filling for an omelet, especially if there are already some peas and chives or mint involved.

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Soft Scrambled Eggs by Merrill Stubbs © Provided by Food52 Soft Scrambled Eggs by Merrill Stubbs

5. Stir It

When stirred into risottos and pastas just before serving, mascarpone melts into the silkiest, luxurious one-ingredient sauce. You can even stir a few spoonfuls to finish grits or polenta for an extra creamy touch. Try adding it to nutty cauliflower risotto, using it in place of cream for a springy green pasta, or incorporating it into your next baked noodle creation.

I usually like to keep things simple, tossing my pasta of choice with some olive oil, garlic, and herbs in a pan with a little pasta water, maybe adding in some vegetables. Once a glossy sauce develops, I'll add in a few spoonfuls of mascarpone and let it melt, coating each noodle in a creamy sauce that's slightly sweet and nutty and pretty much begging to be covered in more herbs and a grating of Parmesan. It's also excellent stirred into a simple tomato sauce, and will stretch and enhance a pesto like nobody's business.

Instant Pot Polenta © Provided by Food52 Instant Pot Polenta Instant Pot Polenta

Savory Recipes With Mascarpone

Campanelle With Asparagus, Hazelnuts & Mascarpone

Asparagus, treated right. This pasta dish—any curly, short shape does the trick—features a whole pound of greenery. Lemony mascarpone melts into an effortless sauce, while toasted hazelnuts add crunch.

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Campanelle with Asparagus, Hazelnuts & Marscapone © Provided by Food52 Campanelle with Asparagus, Hazelnuts & Marscapone Campanelle with Asparagus, Hazelnuts & Marscapone

Heirloom Tomato & Lemon Mascarpone Tart

Like a fresh fruit tart, but savory. Multihued heirloom tomatoes take center stage here, supported by a lush, creamy bed of mascarpone. Serve with the emerald green basil oil alongside, so everyone can drizzle (and keep drizzling) as they eat.

a bowl of food on a plate: Heirloom Tomato and Lemon Mascarpone Tart © Provided by Food52 Heirloom Tomato and Lemon Mascarpone Tart Heirloom Tomato and Lemon Mascarpone Tart

Pasta With Air-Fryer Mascarpone Mushrooms

A very good thing to do with your air fryer: Combine mushrooms with onion, garlic, cream, and, of course, mascarpone, then let the appliance do its magic. The result is a creamy, vegetarian pasta sauce to repeat whenever you need something cozy.

Pasta With Air-Fryer Mascarpone Mushrooms © Provided by Food52 Pasta With Air-Fryer Mascarpone Mushrooms Pasta With Air-Fryer Mascarpone Mushrooms

Chilled Beet & Mascarpone Soup With Balsamic

Is there anything more refreshing than a chilly bowl of soup on a scorching summer day? We think not. This one is all about beets—a root vegetable that’s as earthy as it gets. Mascarpone adds some much-needed creaminess—the extra dollop on top is optional but, you know, not really.

a bowl of food on a plate: Chilled Beet & Mascarpone Soup with Balsamic © Provided by Food52 Chilled Beet & Mascarpone Soup with Balsamic Chilled Beet & Mascarpone Soup with Balsamic

Mascarpone Mushroom Marsala With Noodles

Another mascarpone-sauced pasta with mushrooms because the combo is just that good. This recipe leans on marsala, a fortified Italian wine that’s always happy to help out with dinner. Feel free to increase the parsley—its brightness is a breezy respite from all the richness.

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Mascarpone Mushroom Marsala with Noodles © Provided by Food52 Mascarpone Mushroom Marsala with Noodles Mascarpone Mushroom Marsala with Noodles

Prosciutto, Pear, Mascarpone & Red Onion Tart

Sweet pears, salty prosciutto, and sharp red onion sound A++ on their own. But then you add in a buttery, crumbly tart crust and mascarpone mixed with herbes de Provence (an aromatic French spice blend often made with thyme, basil, rosemary, marjoram, and tarragon, depending on the recipe). Oh yes.

Prosciutto, Pear, Mascarpone & Red Onion Tart © Provided by Food52 Prosciutto, Pear, Mascarpone & Red Onion Tart Prosciutto, Pear, Mascarpone & Red Onion Tart
How do you use mascarpone, outside of tiramisu? Bonus points for savory suggestions!

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