Poached Quinces and Mascarpone
The quince has always intrigued me. It appears on cheese boards in the form of membrillo, or fruit paste, alongside hunks of Spanish cheeses. Its sweet tangs lifts fatty Manchego out of its torpor (I always picture Manchego as an oaf, a lunk). Raw, though, the quince is inedible – it dries out your mouth, makes you blink and pucker. The first time I saw one in a store, the produce manager offered to cut one up for me to taste – we both tried it and stood scowling at each other.
At a recent farmers’ market, I found myself petting a pair of quinces. They were the size of guinea pigs and covered in a sheen of soft silver fur. Reader, I bought them. For weeks, they perfumed my crisper. Their smell is like too sweet Bonnebell perfume, or the smell of a guest bedroom post great-grandmother.
During Hurricane Sandy, there was nothing else to do but sauce up those quinces. I read about roasting them, stewing them, sweetening them with maple and honey. Then I turned to a much-thumbed-through-but-never-utilized cookbook, Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Fruit.
Gads, Alice, I thought, If you don’t have a quince recipe, I’ll hate myself for moving this book between three houses.
And there it was: a recipe for poached quinces.
Four ingredients, not counting water. Simple, simple, simple. In an instant, the cleaver was out and I was hacking.
What to pair with poached quinces (after the tough birds turns slack and soft in sugar)? Roast lamb? Or cake? Or cheese?
I am a big believer in keeping a tub of Mascarpone in the fridge from November through March. You never know when a dessert may present itself. You never know when a storm may keep you inside with nothing in the cupboards except a few amaretti and some apricot jam. Then you will be so glad, so profoundly chipper, when you rip the Mascarpone from the fridge and begin making sandwich cookies.
With poached quinces, mascarpone is the dew on the rose petal.
I recommend stirring in a few tablespoons of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur after the cheese has softened. There’s a floral note in this quixotic mixer that turns an ordinary cocktail into a sprig of daisies; you can imagine what it does for the quince. It completes the daisy chain.
Poached Quinces with St. Germaine Mascarpone
Adapted from Alice Waters, this is the sort of comfort food dish that you can serve for breakfast or dessert, or skip the Mascarpone (just don’t tell me) and serve poached quinces alongside a pork loin. For a winter brunch, try serving this with hot oatmeal or a side of oaty scones. Biscotti also pair nicely.
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
½ vanilla bean
¼ lemon, sliced
2 large quinces, cored and quartered
4 ounces Mascarone, softened (I like BelGioioso)
3-4 tablespoons St. Germaine, or to taste
Heat water and sugar in a medium saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Then add the vanilla bean (slit it open and scoop out some of the seeds, then add both the seeds and the pod to the water). Add lemon and quince slices. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the quince is very soft.
Ladle warm quince and syrup into bowls – remove the lemon slices if desired, but they are pleasantly soft and a lovely bitter contrast. Stir a few tablespoons of Saint Germaine into the Mascarpone. Add a spoonful to each dish.
Serve with lemon tea.