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FOOD : The Wild and Wonderful Wine Dessert : It Looks So Simple, So Innocent

August 23, 1987|BETSY BALSLEY | Betsy Balsley is The Times' food editor.

THE QUESTION WAS innocent enough, nothing more than an idle remark. The answer, however, can only be described as a ring-tailed blockbuster.

Here's how it all came about.

At a wonderful outdoor luncheon at the beautiful Durney Vineyards home of Dorothy and Willian Durney in Carmel Highlands earlier this summer, a guest idly asked the hostess what she and her husband did with the wine they had left over from tastings. Most wines, certainly the better reds, lose their drinkability quickly once they are opened--and one can use only so much wine vinegar.

Dorothy Durney, with a twinkle in her eyes that should have warned her unsuspecting listeners, replied: "I make a dessert with it."

Reasonable enough: Wine is frequently used in desserts, notably the rich Italian zabaglione with sweet Marsala, and the English trifle with sherry or port. But there was nothing in the hostess' demeanor to prepare her listeners for her recipe, which horrified most and intrigued everyone in earshot.

"It's so simple," she said, "and everyone loves it. I just melt marshmallows in the wine and let it set. You can add a dollop of whipped cream if you like, or serve it plain."

Marshmallows? Melted in wine? Was this woman serious? You bet!

She told her audience that her family liked it made with their own Cabernet or with Riesling. The result is a rich, very winy-tasting dessert that--so long as you taste it before you find out what it is--is indeed a great way to use leftover wine. But, Durney stressed, this is a dessert that must be made with a good wine. Unusual as it is, it makes a nice, light, slightly sweet cross between a pudding and a mousse.

And if one analyzes the ingredients in a marshmallow--beaten egg whites, gelatin and sugar, all common to many gelled dessert--it begins to sound less strange.

Such creativity really isn't surprising when you find that for many years Dorothy Durney was a talented screenwriter who, as Dorothy Kingsley, wrote most of the Esther Williams musicals and other films such as "Pal Joey" and "Can Can." She also created the TV series, Bracken's World.

Her parting words to her guests were: "I never thought about it before . . . but I suppose you might try it with whiskey."

One of these days . . . .

DURNEY'S DELIGHT

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups leftover Cabernet or Riesling wine

12 to 15 large marshmallows

Whipped cream

Pour wine into saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Tear marshmallows into 2 or 3 pieces and drop them into simmering liquid, stirring to melt. When mixture begins to thicken to a syrupy state, pour it into small ramekins and chill thoroughly. To serve, top with a dollop of whipped cream. Makes 5 to 6 servings.

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