My wife has one of those ingrained childhood associations of prunes with prune juice that has left her avoiding the fruit in her adult life. What's more, the marketing efforts by the prune industry to re-brand the fruit as "dried plums" have been a total loss in her case. "They're still prunes," she would tell me.
But, when I saw her try (and, better yet, actually enjoy) a dessert of prunes cooked in red wine and served with mascarpone at Frankies 457 Spuntino (457 Court Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn), I felt a tinge of victory that prunes had penetrated her culinary conscious.
I recently attempted a reconstruction of the dish at home and succeeded through sheer improvisation, particularly since we did not have any red wine on hand. Instead, I used port, and although port can be saccharine and potentially exaggerate the super-sweetness prunes, I found that adding lemon cut the sugar, added some acidity, and brought a touch of tartness.
I made up the recipe on the fly, so the measurements that follow aren't exact. The technique's the thing, starting with reducing about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of port over medium heat. As the alcohol burned away (watch out for a flame-up), I added two cloves, a cinnamon stick, and enough sugar to fill my palm. When the port had reduced by almost half, I strained out the spices and added about a dozen prunes, continuing to cook the sauce down until it became a thick syrup. At this point, I added the juice of one half of a lemon to tame the sweetness. If the sauce gets too thick and threatens to turn from a syrup into something closer to tar, just stir in some water. When it finally had the right consistency, I removed the pan from the heat. You can stop here if you'd like and refrigerate everything, reheating the prunes and sauce for serving later.
Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of mascarpone onto the middle of a plate (or, if you want to be fancy, form quenelles with the cheese), and layer the prunes on top, spooning the sweet sauce over and around the mascarpone. Warm, sweet fruit and cool, creamy mascarpone -- a combination even a lifelong prunophobe can't resist.