Strawberry Cream Parfaits with Black Pepper and Balsamic Syrup

Strawberry Balsamic

Strawberries, balsamic vinegar and … black pepper? If you haven’t tried this combination, it’s high-time you did. Strawberries and balsamic vinegar pair beautifully. The murky sweetness of balsamic vinegar complements the strawberries, while it’s sharpness is softened by the perfumed fruit. Black pepper, the dark horse of this trio, slips into the background, discreetly brightening the flavors, with just a hint of a bite.

Traditionally, strawberries are simply tossed with a few tablespoons of vinegar and allowed to sit for an hour or two. In this recipe, the balsamic vinegar is transformed into a viscous syrup with sugar and lemon juice before tossing with the strawberries. In Italian terms, this would be the double shot of espresso in your cup.

These parfaits show off the macerated strawberries, layered with a dreamy mousse of whipped mascarpone cream. It’s an easy dessert to prepare with show-stopping results. Alternatively, serve the strawberries with ice cream, semifreddo or panna cotta – or simply as they are with a biscotti and that double espresso on the side.

Strawberry Cream Parfaits with Black Pepper and Balsamic Syrup

Begin this recipe at least one hour before serving. Each of the components may be made in advance for last minute assembly before serving. Serves 8-10.

For the syrup:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the berries:
3 pounds strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the mascarpone cream:
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
8 ounces chilled mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Freshly grated lemon zest
Black pepper
Mint leaves

Prepare the syrup:
Combine vinegar, sugar and lemon juice in small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until syrup is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and cool to room temperature. (Syrup may be made one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate).

Prepare the berries:
Reserve 8-10 whole strawberries. Hull and halve the remaining strawberries (quarter if large). Combine the hulled strawberries, the cooled syrup, sugar and black pepper in a bowl and gently toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 2 hours.

Prepare the mascarpone cream:
Combine whipping cream, mascarpone cheese, 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla in bowl of electric mixer. Beat until soft peaks form. (May be prepared up to 4 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate.)

Divide half the strawberries among 8-10 glasses or bowls. Spoon cream over the strawberries to cover. Spoon remaining strawberries over cream. Top with a dollop of cream. Drizzle with any remaining syrup. Garnish with reserved strawberry, lemon zest, black pepper and mint leaves.