A Cheesemonger’s Summertime Sweet Treats
By Cindy Della Monica, Cheesemonger and Owner, Cheese Central
Photos by Sara Joy Pinnell
Summer days are soon here, making me dance with joy as I dream of long daylight hours and deliciously warm days. MY interpretation of “warm” is up to 90ish*. “Hot” comes on the tails of 95* or better! So, let’s just cut to the chase: the reason for us to enjoy these fabulous warm days? Easy cold and frozen treats!
One of my best summertime kid memories is of homemade strawberry ice cream churned the old-fashioned way by Mr. O’Connor in his garage--filling the churn’s working parts with ice and rock salt, and the cold can of crushed strawberries, cream, milk, sugar and a touch of vanilla. All of the neighborhood kids would see his garage door open, the placement of the churn right at the edge of the sun-to-shady concrete, and we would all go running to “help”.
We all thought Mr. O’Connor was such a nice man, “letting” all of us kids take turns churning. It didn’t matter how old you were—you got a turn at the churn! Watching anxiously as the pink mixture started turning into an icy swirl, transforming into a soft-serve texture that we would beg to taste right away, and then cranking away until it was quite firm. Mr. O’Connor never did let the ice cream “ripen” in the freezer before sharing this treat with all of us kids. His ulterior motive, by the way, was to fill his bowl with the lion’s share of the ice cream WE worked so hard to churn! Yes, we all still think he was a nice man.
Yummy frozen flavor memories are part of my later life, too. When my catering partner and I were hired to produce a May luncheon for Woodbridge Mondavi Winery in the early 1990’s, our menu included a fresh cucumber granita on a crispy green salad dressed with sweet-savory raspberry vinaigrette and edible flowers. Imagine my surprise when a booming voice entered the kitchen, turning me from my next course plating duties with the exclamation “Who is responsible for that first course?” I had not met Mr. Michael Mondavi yet—but was greatly pleased that he thought it was one of the best dishes he had ever eaten! My years as their caterer, and then Chef de Cuisine, allowed me to deliver fun and unusual flavors, as well as delicious classical cooking. That cucumber granita, however, will always be pivotal in my mind!
Family birthdays tended to be commemorated with old-fashioned ice box cakes. Remember those? Grand-dad’s favorite was the simple layered graham crackers and chocolate pudding, with a big dollop of whipped cream upon serving. Nick likes the Tiramisu version but serve me a lemon custard/vanilla cookie ice box cake any day! Or a rhubarb and ginger concoction with coconut cookies in between—more tart than sweet.
Today, my “cheesemonger-style” will help you enjoy some quick and simple summertime treats such as fresh whole strawberries, lazily dipped into a cold bowl of crème fraiche and then into light brown sugar. Yum! Or, fill a pie plate with fresh sliced summer peaches, a handful of chopped toasted almonds, and place into the middle a fresh burrata. Then drizzle it with honey and accompany with crisp almond biscotti. Serve yourself a scoop from the burrata, with lots of peaches—tastes just like peach cheesecake and no work!
Need a quick way to jazz up store-bought vanilla bean ice cream? Drizzle scoops of ice cream with lemon olive oil and top with chopped pistachios and a pinch of sea salt! Really! Or, a small bowlful of fresh raspberries (or strawberries) topped with berry sorbet is crazy-good when drizzled with real balsamic vinegar. Trust me….
So, without further ado, I would like to share some more delightful summer treats with you—cheesemonger style! Let’s make this summer one with lots of sweet memories.
As always, our staff at CHEESE CENTRAL is ready to help you with samples of our 100+ cheeses at the counter. Visit us at 11 N School St, Lodi, CA 95240 or visit our website at www.cheesecentrallodi.com
MASCARPONE ICE CREAM
Makes 4-5 C
Ice cream base
1 C whole milk or half-and-half
¾ C sugar
5 egg yolks
2 C mascarpone
1 ½ C of crushed strawberries or
raspberries, or mashed fresh apricots
3 T sugar
2 T vodka (stops the fruit from
turning into ice when frozen)
In a large saucepan, combine milk and sugar. Whisk in egg yolks. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and easily coats the back of a spoon. Pour custard through a strainer into a bowl, and cool. Refrigerate custard overnight.
Meanwhile, mix choice of fruit with sugar and vodka. Store in the refrigerator until custard is churned. When ready to churn, follow manufacturer’s directions for your maker. When custard is frozen, transfer to freezer container, layering in dollops of fruit mixture as you fill container. Ripen for 4 hours or overnight.
CANNOLI ICE BOX CAKE
Makes 9 servings
2 C mascarpone cheese
1 C powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla
3 C whipped cream
2 sleeves of cinnamon
sugar graham crackers
½ C mini chocolate chips, divided
¼ C chopped pistachios
With mixer, combine mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. Fold in one cup of the whipped cream. In a 9x9” baking dish, place a single layer of graham crackers, breaking a few to fill in any gaps over the bottom. Spread half of the cheese mixture over the crackers. Sprinkle with half of the chocolate chips. Repeat cracker and cheese layers. Finish with a layer of crackers and spread with remaining whipped cream. Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and chopped pistachios. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Heavenly reminiscent of Italian Rum Cake. Oh, so delicious served on top of a toasted slice of pound cake. Makes about 6 C
1 C golden raisins, chopped
½ C light rum
2 ½ C half-and-half
1 T grated lemon zest
½ t freshly grated nutmeg
9 egg yolks
1 ½ C sugar
1 T vanilla
2 C ricotta cheese, homemade preferred
1 C mascarpone cheese
In microwave-safe bowl, warm rum for one minute. Stir in raisins, setting aside to absorb the rum. In a large saucepan, combine half-and-half, lemon zest, and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, turn off heat and set aside. In a stand mixer bowl, beat egg yolks, gradually adding the sugar. Gradually add the warm cream, mixing until incorporated. Return mixture to the saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until an instant-read thermometer is at 160*. Remove from heat, add vanilla and cool.
Whisk in the cheeses and the rum-soaked raisins. Pour mixture into your choice of ice cream churns (I use the KitchenAid ice cream bowl, kept in the freezer at all times, to be ready at a moment’s notice for quick treats!) and follow manufacturer’s directors for freezing. Remove ice cream to a freezer container, and let ripen for 4 hours.
Cindy Della Monica is a Cheesemonger and Owner of Cheese Central in Lodi, Ca.
This story first appeared in Ardent
for Life Summer 2019 issue.