Post by Alisa
I have the attention span of a gnat, and get bored easily. A quick fix for that is reading. There was a poster in the library of one of my schools which read: Reading Takes You Everywhere! I have visited the likes of the Middle East, the dark jungles of Africa, nineteenth century London, and Heaven a few times because I had to start those books over again. Not that I mind, really. It's not like I've ever actually set foot on those far away soils. Or clouds. I'm just as fascinated the second and third time I visit them via literature. I usually have two or three books going at one time, which is a little like spinning plates. If I let one book go too long, I'll forget what I've read and have to start over the next time I pick it up.
I'd been idly visiting a hidden city in an imaginary land called 'Idris', but that book went crashing to the floor like an unattended plate the moment that I began house-hunting in Cortona, Italy. My real estate guide is Frances Mayes, and she ushers me through the back roads of Tuscany in her memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun. I've seen the movie with Diane Lane a handful of times, and it never gets old, so when I came across the memoir in a thrift store for fifty cents, I snapped it up immediately. I'm far enough into it to know that the motion picture took the liberty of cutting Ms.Mayes' boyfriend completely out of the picture. (Shouldn't there be a better term for one's 'significant other' when they are long past the age of being referred to as a 'boy' or 'girl'? Seems a bit ridiculous to say that a middle-aged, divorced woman 'has a boyfriend'. Makes it sound like someone has been robbing the cradle. But I digress...) Images of long-abandoned Cortona homes, replete with grapevines running rampant, neglected groves of olives, plums, almonds, and pears, and stray hazelnut and fig trees are positioned in my head like photos in a mental scrapbook. However, it is the prepared food which so completely captures my full attention. Tomato-topped bruschette prepared while sitting by the fireplace? Yes, please! Pears steeped in red wine, and served with Gorgonzola and walnuts? Did I just die and get a glimpse of the menu in Heaven? Spaghetti with a simple sauce of browned pancetta, cream, and wild arugula? Now they're just showing off. And I like it because most of these dishes are included as either recipes with ingredient measurements, or else it's a simplistic kind of recipe that you can figure out for yourself based on how much of this or that you wish to add.
Among the recipes, there is one for pears baked in a mascarpone custard. I had peaches sitting on the kitchen counter, and blueberries and blackberries in the fridge.
Sounded good enough to me.
Butter the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Peel and slice 6 peaches (or pears or apples, if you'd prefer) and arrange them evenly around the buttered dish. I tossed a handful of berries in because I had them, and because I love the way blueberries and blackberries look when they've been baked. Sprinkle the fruit with a teaspoon of sugar. This is probably a good idea is you've chosen to bake pears or tart apples, but these peaches were plenty sweet, and I could have easily omitted the raw sugar.
Cream 4 tablespoons of softened butter with a 1/2 cup of white sugar. Beat in one egg, a teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional - I added this myself because I love the flavor of vanilla in a custard), and then add 2/3 cup of mascarpone (sweet Italian cream cheese). Beat until blended. Add 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour and mix until fully incorporated. Spread mascarpone mixture evenly over the top of the arranged fruit.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until just set. The original recipe called for 20 minutes to bake pears, so I thought it would be more than enough for peaches that weren't under-ripe. Still, I added about 6 more minutes to get the center set, and 2 or 3 more minutes to achieve a nice, golden top. Baking at Colorado's higher elevations, like I do, means different cooking times than most everyone else, so keep an eye on your custard after the 20 minute mark.
The entire dessert is just lovely, but the edges... the edges!! They were out-of-this-world delicious. The custard formed a kind of caramelized crust around the outer edges, and I am not ashamed to say that I took a spoon and chipped all the way around. My son tells me that cheese and fruit should not go together, my daughter is a chocoholic, and my husband is out of town all week. That means I was free to chip away at the caramelized goodness until it was devoured. And I did. Mmmm.....
Serves 6 generously.