My father thoroughly understood the link between food and learning. When I was in grade school, Sunday night dinners at our house often involved “lessons” to match the food served. Learning by eating, so to speak.
It was also a chance to teach us table manners.
French night could mean anything on the table, from beef stew to onion soup. Italian Night meant spaghetti or lasagna by candlelight (and a colorful Chianti bottle, of course).
The fare was not just ethnic: Titanic Night featured a salad with iceberg lettuce and some sort of coldwater fish.
Always inventive, my mother got into the spirit of things with appropriate centerpieces and the music. Sometimes, she even typed up little menus.
Trivia was a big thing with my father. He had an amazing mind for details and would always follow up with the phrase, “Fiction and Fact from Bob’s Almanac.” Sunday night dinners were always filled with trivia, often about the very food we were eating.
In my mail Friday was some interesting trivia about one of my favorite cheeses, Mascarpone, from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, along with some inventive recipes.
Mascarpone, I read, was developed about 400 years ago in the Lombardy region of Italy. It was once a fall and winter cheese, but is now produced year round — and not only in Italy.
Wisconsin, it turns out, is a leader in Mascarpone production with two family companies, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, and BelGioioso Cheese, making award-winning Mascarpone distributed across the United States.
What I did not know is that Mascarpone is not merely a dessert cheese. Sunday night — which is almost always Italian Night at our house — I tried this recipe from the Milk Marketing Board:
Mascarpone Pasta Sauce with Bacon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/3 cup onion, diced
6 slices thick cut peppered bacon, cut into 1-inch strips
2 cups tomato puree
1 cup water
salt and pepper
8 ounces Mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, julienned
Heat oil in heavy skilled. Add garlic and sauté until flavor is released, but do not brown.
Remove garlic. Add onion and cook over low heat until it turns golden.
Add bacon, increasing heat until bacon cooks but does not turn crisp.
Add tomato puree and water. Simmer until the sauce thickens — about 20 minutes or longer.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Add Mascarpone and basil; blend well. Sauce will be orange and opaque.
Note: The sauce will flavor a pound of pasta. I added some Italian sausage to please the palate of my meat-loving husband.