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Pear perfection: These five recipes — some sweet, some savory — will make the most of your haul

  • Spiced pears with coriander, clove and allspice pair well — so to speak —with meats. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sweet wine gives this pear, blackberry and ginger compote its brilliant color. PHOTO STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Pear, Blackberry and Ginger Compote PHOTO STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS—



For the Gazette
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

When things turn pear-shaped, as the Britishism goes, they have seriously messed up. Not a good thing. And not a good reflection on pears, especially as most fruit metaphors are positive. Think of a plum job, or a peachy complexion, or the apple of someone’s eye.

It’s hard to figure exactly why turning pear shaped is a bit of a disaster because most people love pears. Perhaps it’s by comparison to their botanical cousin apples, whose globular shape is more regular, more orderly, more like other fruits.  Pears don’t toe this apple line. Still, as the English writer Edward Bunyard pointed out, both fruits have inestimable qualities: “The duty of an apple is to be crisp and crunchable, a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption.”

This is not true of Asian pears, which crunch as crisply as any apple, but all the thousand varieties of Eurasian pears ripen from crunchability to meltingly tender, often in a heartbeat. In another heartbeat they speed on to inedible browny mushiness, so it’s best to buy them when they are firm then keep an eye on their transformation so you can seize them at the perfect moment for eating out of hand. For pears that are going to be baked in a tart or poached for a dessert, the stage just before softness is better because the heat tenderizes them.

Several varieties of pears are regulars in local stores. Bartletts are the commonest. Their name comes from Enoch Bartlett, a Massachusetts grower who imported Williams Bon Chretien pears from Europe, where they are still called called Williams pears. Beautifully shaped and delightfully juicy, these are the pears manufacturers use for canning. You may also see them whole in bottles of Williams liqueur.

Anjou pears are chunky, often lopsided, and like Williams, sweetly juicy when ripe.  Long and skinny Bosc pears are aromatic and firm. Colorful Forelle pears are smaller. They originated in Germany, where their name means “trout,” and applied to them because, like a rainbow trout’s, their skin shades through several hues. Asian pears, also sometimes called Korean or nashi pears, are not just juicily delicious to eat but good also for cooking because they hold their shape well.

America has no native pears, but Seckel pears are an exclusively American variety named after a man who found them growing on his land in Delaware. Small and firm, they are perfect for making spiced pears for serving with meat. They are good, too, in other recipes that call for whole pears.

Among these are pears al horno, a Spanish dish of pears baked in orange juice and sweet Malaga wine. Pears poached in red wine is a well-known winter favorite from France.   Pears Belle Hélène also comes from France. It is vanilla-poached pears garnished with crystallized violets and served on vanilla ice-cream with a hot chocolate sauce. Other traditional recipes include an eel and pear soup from Germany and pears with maraschino from Austria. In Italy, pears are often eaten with pecorino or Parmesan cheese, and in England with Stilton.

These traditional dishes feature some of the many foods that complement pears. Nuts are terrific with them too, especially walnuts, pecans, and almonds. Ginger in all its forms highlights the flavor of pear. Nutmeg and allspice are other good spices to use with them. Poached pears are delicious with yogurt. Indeed, in Europe, commercially packed pear yogurt sits alongside other fruit yogurts in the dairy case.  

Here are some recipes to make the most of your haul of pears – a versatile and lovely fruit that absolutely doesn’t deserve to be associated with things going wrong.

ROASTED pEARS AND bUTTERNUT sLICES WITH bLUE cHEESE AND wALNUTS

Pears bring a welcome sweetness and acidity to butternut squash in this easy dish. Blue cheese adds sharpness. The richness and flavor of walnuts complete this harmonious quartet of flavors.

1 medium-large butternut squash

1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste

2-3 tablespoons canola or olive oil

2 large Bartletts pears

About 2 ounces blue cheese

1 teaspoon butter

½ cup walnut pieces

Use only the straight end of the butternut. Peel it and cut in half-inch slices. Spread in a single layer and sprinkle with salt. Leave for 20-30 minutes, by which time they will be dewed with liquid droplets. Wipe dry.

Turn the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a small ovenproof dish with the butter, add the walnuts and pop in the oven for 3-5 minutes, or until they smell fragrant. Set aside.

Halve the pears, Scoop out the core with a melon baller or teaspoon.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and fry the butternut for 4 minutes on each side, or until they and have formed golden-brown patches and are tender when pierced with a knife tip. Place on a baking sheet in the oven as they get done.

After the butternut slices have cooked for 2-3 minutes, add the pears to the pan cut side down, adding more oil if necessary. (If your pan won’t hold both the squash and the pears, cook each in a separate pan.) After 3-4 minutes turn the pears over to so see how they are doing. You want them to be golden-brown. If not continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes. Fill the hollow left by the cores with the blue cheese. Put them with the butternut slices on the baking sheet cut side up and put in the oven for 4-5 minutes or until the cheese has melted.

To serve, arrange the butternut slices on a platter or individual plates, rest a pear half on each slice. Scatter on the walnut pieces. Serve with new potatoes or rice and a green vegetable as a main dish.

 

PEAR,BLACKBERRY AND GINGER COMPOTE

This recipe for pears in red wine first appeared in English in a 1390 collection of recipes from the court of King Richard II. It called for sweet “Greek wine,” mulberries, and powdered ginger. Here, blackberries take the place of hard-to-find mulberries. Greek Mavrodaphne has the necessary sweetness so it’s a good choice, as is port or a fruity Merlot, if you want less sweetness.

4-5 large Williams or Bosc pears

1 lemon, halved

1 cup Mavrodaphne or ruby port

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

1 cup or more (to taste) blackberries

Cut the pears in half and remove the stem and the core with a melon baller or small teaspoon. Cut each half into 3 or 4 slices. As you work rub the halved lemon over the pear slices to prevent them browning. Put them in a saucepan with the wine, and simmer over low heat until they are tender – about 4-5 minutes with riper pears, 8-9 minutes with harder ones. Lift them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the sugar and ginger to the pan, raise the heat and let the liquid bubble until it is slightly syrupy. Return the pear slices and cook for another two minutes. Remove the slices to a serving bowl, and add the blackberries. Boil the liquid until it has reduced by a third. Pour it over the fruit and let stand until cooled. Serve at room temperature.

PEAR AND ALMOND TART

This luxurious tart is catnip to both almond lovers and pearophiles. You need pears that are ripe and tender. If yours are still hard, cook them in water until they soften up a little. Coriander gives the pastry an aromatic, slightly orange, flavor that enhances the pears and almonds.

For the pastry

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 stick cold butter

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 teaspoons powdered coriander

About ¼ cup chilled milk

For the filling

4 medium large ripe pears

2 eggs, beaten

1 ¼ cups almond flour or ground almonds

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted but cool

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 teaspoons flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with butter.

To make the pastry, put the flour into a mixing bowl or a food processor bowl. Grate in the chilled butter, or cut it into small pieces and add. Quickly rub it in you’re using a bowl or whizz briefly if using a processor. When it looks like coarse crumbs, thoroughly mix in the sugar and powdered coriander. Add milk a few drops at a time, until you can form a dough. Knead once or twice on a floured board, then roll and spread in the pie-pan letting the excess drape over the edges. Cover lightly and chill while you work on the filling.

To make almond filling, mix the almond flour, the flour, sugar, melted butter, vanilla and almond extract. Set aside 2 teaspoons of the beaten egg, and add the rest into the almond mixture to form a paste.

Peel the pears, rubbing them with the cut lemon to prevent browning. Halve them lengthways, and core them using a melon baller or a small teaspoon.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and paint the bottom surface with the reserved egg. Add the filling in an even layer. Position the pears, rounded side up, thin ends pointing to the middle, trimming them if needed to make them fit. Trim off excess pastry. Put the flaked almonds in little pile in the center. Bake for 10 mins at 400 degrees, then at 375 degrees for another 15 minutes or until pastry is golden and the pears tender.

PEAR AND EARL GREY SMOOTHIE

Earl Grey tea gives this smoothie backbone; pears give sweetness and flavor; vanilla yogurt gives it lushness; banana adds depth. Bananas go well with pears, but start with just one or two slices then taste-test before adding more so their flavor doesn’t dominate.  

1 Earl Grey teabag

2 very ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears

About ¼ small ripe banana

1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

Put the Earl Grey tea bag into a pitcher and add 1 cup of boiling water. Stir and leave for 2 minutes, then discard the teabag and let the tea cool to room temperature. Peel, core, and dice the pears. Put the pieces in a blender along with the Earl Grey tea. Whizz it to mix, then add a couple of slices of banana and whizz again. Finally add the yogurt and run the blender for a minute to create a foam. Taste and add a little more banana if you like. Pour into 2-3 tall glasses.

SPICED SECKEL PEARS

These spiced pears are a piquant and pretty relish with ham or cold meats. You can halve the pears or use larger pears cut in thick slices if you prefer.  

1 cup white wine or clear cider vinegar

1 dozen firm Seckel pears

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons whole coriander

½ teaspoon whole allspice

6 whole cloves

¼ of a whole nutmeg or a 2-inch cinnamon stick

2-3 well shaped bay leaves

Put 4 cups of water in a large pan and add a tablespoon of the vinegar. Peel the pears. Scoop off the blossom end with a melon baller or sharp knife. Then dig deeper and cut out the core and seeds. Leave the stalks on. As you work drop the pears in the pan of water. When all are done, boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Now stir in the sugar and add the remaining vinegar, coriander, allspice, cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon, and bay leaves. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the pears are cooked through. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave for at least 8 hours or overnight. Put the pears into sterilized jars. Strain the liquid through a sieve. Add a few of the spices and a bay leaf to each jar. Now boil the liquid for 5 minutes or until slightly reduced, and pour enough into each jar to cover the pears. Put on lids, and keep in the fridge for 2 weeks before using. Store opened jars in the fridge.