I've been on a bit of a fruit kick the past few weeks. I've gotten a TON in our CSA and I couldn't be happier. The thing is, I've had a pretty insane 2 weeks of traveling and work and that left me with a pint of "I need to do something with these strawberries now or they're getting tossed". Since they were a little past their prime in regards to eating them plain, I decided to go back to a dessert my mom made me a few years ago.
It might sound a little weird or gross, but trust me, this dessert is to die for! Plus it has fruit so it's healthy, right? You start by making a pretty typical caramel but then you hit it with some aged balsamic at the end for an awesome acidic kick that transforms the dish. A couple minutes of that caramel cooking with fresh sweet strawberries makes for a sensational sauce. For those more adventurous in the kitchen, I know you're vibing with me right now. Top that sauce off with some chilled, lightly sweetened lemony mascarpone cheese and you've got yourself a lighter summer dessert that will impress your ______ (friends, family, man, whoever). The best part? I think a few basil leaves sprinkled on top makes it even more amazing. It's got that whole fresh, caramely sweet thing going on and I like it. Best part? It comes together in 15 minutes start to finish!
strawberry balsamic caramel + lemon mascarpone
yields 4 servings
for the sauce:
½ c. packed brown sugar
2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP aged balsamic vinegar
pinch of salt
1 pint of strawberries cut in half or slices (however you prefer)
for the cream:
8 oz mascarpone cheese chilled
juice of ½ a lemon (about 1 TBSP)
zest of a lemon
2 TBSP powdered sugar (to taste)
basil leaves or some lemon zest
in a medium sized bowl, combine cheese, lemon juice + zest, and powdered sugar. stir or whisk until incorporated. place in refrigerator and let it chill while you make your caramel sauce.
in a large pan place sugar and butter over medium heat. when the mixture melts and starts to bubble, keep a close eye on it. you'll want to make sure to cook it until the sugar dissolves but you have to be careful not to burn it. this will take about 7-8 minutes. once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is caramelized, pour in your vinegar. it will bubble and go crazy, don't worry, it's supposed to. stir until combined and calmed down and then add in your strawberries and cook for 1 more minute. this will let the strawberry juice combine with the sauce and warm them up a bit.
place a scoop of the mascarpone mixture in a bowl and drizzle your balsamic strawberry caramel over the cheese. top with basil leaves (if desired).
this can be done with regular granulated sugar if you don't have brown sugar. cooking method is the same but it might take a little longer to melt. you might also have to add some extra liquid to thin it out depending on how thick you like your caramel.
i love the italian flavors here but if you're not a fan of herbs with dessert, you can totally leave out the basil. lemon and mascarpone play so nicely with this mixture but if you're trying to be budget conscious, mascarpone can be substituted for vanilla ice cream. this is actually really good over ice cream and takes even less time since you don't have to make the cheese mixture. just put your lemon zest and juice in with the caramel sauce and you'll get the same flavors. if you want to do the whole cheese thing, you could try substituting for a combo of goat and cream cheese or just plain goat. ricotta would be interesting too (i'm not a huge fan of the texture but if you are, i think it would play nicely here).
strawberries really shine and hold their shape well but i'm sure this would be great with blackberries, blueberries, probably even raspberries. use what you have on hand! don't have aged balsamic? that's ok, you can totally use regular balsamic vinegar -or- you can cook your balsamic down until it's a thick syrup and you'll achieve a similar flavor/consistency. i personally think aged is a lot less harsh and has a more round and sweet flavor than non-aged which is why i use it. again, it's all about what you like so just go with that! nothing complicated, just a few simple ingredients that come together to make something magical!