Mmm, pears. They taste spectacular grilled alongside that steak in summer. But pears seem more suited to autumn meals and desserts. Something about the way they go with cinnamon, I guess.
Pears work in any course, from appetizers and salads, right through entrees and of course dessert. It’s also easier to pair wines with pear dishes – you don’t have the acids fighting each other like you do with some other fruits.
One thing to remember about pears: They’re picked before they are ripe, and they are usually sold that way, too.
Choose unblemished fruit and let it sit on the counter for a few days. Bartlett pears will turn yellow when they’re ripe. For most other varieties, including Bosc and Anjou, a slight softness at the stem end will tell you they’re ready to eat or cook.
Then use them quickly. As Ralph Waldo Emerson was quoted, “There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” But what perfection.
Roquefort Pear Salad
The dressing here is based on a Trader Joe’s recipe. Leftover dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head butter-leaf lettuce, rinsed and dried, then torn into bite-size pieces
3 ripe Bartlett or Red Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and chopped (may leave unpeeled and cut into thin slices)
5 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled (may substitute Stilton blue cheese)
Flesh of 1 avocado, cut into dice
3 or 4 scallions, white and light-green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices ( 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup candied pecan halves, for garnish
Combine the oil, vinegar, sugar, powdered mustard, garlic and salt in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close tightly and shake to form an emulsified dressing. Season with pepper to taste, shaking to incorporate.
Toss together the lettuce leaves, pears, cheese, avocado and scallions in a mixing bowl. Pour half of the dressing over the mixture – or to taste – and toss to coat evenly.
Transfer to a platter or divide among individual plates. Sprinkle with the pecans; pass the remaining dressing at the table.
Italian Pear Tart
This tart has an easy patted-in crust that’s similar to shortbread. A simple custard base is poured over the par-baked tart and returned to the oven. The tart can also be made with a combination of apples and pears. If you like, switch out the almond extract for vanilla. Adapted by Kathy Morrison from a recipe from “Ciao Italia With Mary Ann Esposito.”
For the crust
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, plus butter for greasing pan
For the filling
4 medium Bartlett or Anjou pears, not too soft, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease with butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. (A high-sided tart pan with removable bottom also works.)
Combine the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Firmly pat the mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. (The flat bottom of a glass or measuring cup is useful for this.)
Arrange the pear slices on the crust, overlapped them slightly and filling in the entire surface. Combine the remaining sugar with the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in a small bowl, and sprinkle it evenly over the pear slices.
Bake the tart for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, the cream and the almond extract. Pour cream mixture evenly over the pear mixture and bake the tart 30 more minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Remove tart from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the tart and then carefully remove the pan ring. Cut the tart into wedges and serve warm. Refrigerate any leftovers. (It’s also good served chilled.)
Yield: 8 to 10
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