Friday, September 11, 2009

Pears: Homer’s “Gift of the Gods” are in season now

The shapely, juicy pear is making an appearance on your local fruit stands now. Known for her voluptuous shape, robust colour, sweet buttery flavour and ripening sensitivities, this charismatic member of the rose family is also a very shrewd little character. Left to ripen too long on the vine, her skin will remain flawless while her inner flesh spoils and turns to mush—unbeknownst to the grower—buyer beware. From cradle to table, miss princess pear must be handled gently to avoid bruising her tender flesh. At home she should be stored in the fruit drawer of the refrigerator to prevent her from spoiling. In keeping with her fragile, sensitive nature, her flavour is best when she is “cool.”

Throughout time, the enigmatic pear has intrigued philosphers and upheld the sensual element in many still-life oil paintings. Ralph Waldo Emerson quipped, "There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat”, while Homer referred to her as, “A gift of the gods.” Originating in Asia thousands of years ago, the Romans were the first to successfully graft new pear varieties, including the Bartlett pear, now by far the most popular pear in North America. Of the five major varieties grown in Ontario today, the Anjou, Bosc and Flemish Beauty pears are at their peak right now. Anjou and Bosc pears are especially suited for cooking because they hold their shape when heated. And of course, a fresh pear of any variety makes a superb snack containing about 100 calories and lots of fibre, Vitamin C, potassium and folacin.

Today, the pear is complimenting unique gourmet salads, appetizers, soups, main entrées and desserts. Her flavour pairs well with: sharp cheeses (blue, stilton, goat or gorgonzola), game meats (duck or goose) and nuts (almonds, walnuts and pecans). Try these recipes to pique your interest. Bon Appétit until next week!

Pear and Gorgonzola Chicken
2 boneless large, thick chicken breasts
5 oz Gorgonzola cheese (frozen)
1 Bosc pear
½ cup crushed walnuts
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp whipping cream
Preheat oven to 400F. Lay chicken breasts flat on cutting board. With a small sharp knife, cut horizontal pockets into chicken breasts or flatten chicken with meat pounder (place mixture on top, roll up, secure with string or metal skewer). Cut 3.5 oz of frozen Gorgonzola cheese into ¼” dices and place in a mixing bowl (reserve remaining 1.5 oz Gorgonzola for sauce.) Peel and cut pear into ¼” dices and add to Gorgonzola in mixing bowl. Add crushed walnuts and stir.
Stuff mixture into chicken pockets and secure with small metal skewers. Place on foil-lined baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Place in 400F oven for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. While chicken is baking, reduce the 2 cups of chicken stock to a ½ cup by boiling rapidly. Reduce heat and whisk in remaining 1.5 oz of Gorgonzola and 2 tbsp whipping cream. Boil for 2 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened and keep warm. Remove chicken from oven and let rest for five minutes. Scrape bits and jus from the bottom of the baking sheet into sauce. Cut chicken in ½” slices and arrange on a serving plate. Strain the sauce and ladle on top of chicken breasts.

Maple Pear and Stilton Cheese Salad

(The beauty of this recipe is its quick assembly. Many of the ingredients can be prepared in large batches and refrigerated in sealed Ziploc bags of Ziploc plastic boxesfor quick salad preparation any night of the week)

For the dressing and pears:

-1/3 cup Maple Syrup

-1 ½ tsp Balsamic vinegar

-3-4 firm Bosc or Anjou pears

Mix together maple syrup with balsamic vinegar in a plastic container (Ziploc Box) just big enough to hold 3-4 sliced pears. Core and thinly slice 3-4 firm Bosc or Anjour pears and place in the maple syrup mixture in the container (Ziploc boxes work well.). Seal lid well. Turn and shake the container 4-5 times to coat the pears. Set aside. These can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, if necessary. The juice from the pears mixes with the syrup and balsamic vinegar and makes a very sweet dressing to be drizzled (later) over the greens.

For the salad:

Thinly slice

-3-4 dried figs and

-½ of a red or some other colourful pepper.

-Crumble up 1/3 cup Stilton cheese.

-¼ cup sugared pecans* (buy at the Bulk barn or make yourself with the recipe below)

2-3 handfuls of Organic Greens (sold in boxes or bags in the Veggie section at Loblaws)

On a large platter, place handfuls of organic greens. Sprinkle sliced figs and red pepper slices over top. Drizzle about 1/3 of the pear mixture juice over top. Place 8-10 pear slices on top. Sprinkle Stilton cheese over top. Finish by sprinkling 1/3 cup of the cooled sugared pecans or walnuts over top. Do not toss this salad--serve in this layered arrangement. An alternate? Substitute green Granny Smith apples for pears and a mild white cheese for Stilton.

*Spicy-Sugared pecans/walnuts recipe

2 tbsp butter

2 cups pecans or walnuts

1/8 tsp EACH: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg

2 tbsp sugar.

Stir nuts in melted butter in fry pan. Heat 3-4 minutes on medium heat and until heated and very light brown. Remove from heat. Mix spices and sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle mixture over nuts and stir well. Line a large cookie sheet with aluminium foil. Place nuts in an even layer and toast at 300F for 10-12 min, stirring at 3 min intervals until brown. These burn easily so watch them carefully.

Mâche, Pear & Avocado Salad with Sesame Rice wine Vinegar dressing

4 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh peeled ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp grainy dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces Mâche (about 1 small box) (greens sold in a plastic box the salad section of the grocery store) or other organic greens
2 Bosc or Anjou pears, cored and cut into thin slices
1 avocado cut into cubes
4 small green onions cut in half lengthwise (you may grill, fry or broil them to bring out more of the flavour if you wish)

In a small bowl, blend all the vinaigrette ingredients together thoroughly. In a large bowl, toss the Mâche with half the dressing. In a smaller bowl, toss the pears, avocado and onion with the remaining dressing. Arrange the Mâche on salad plates and top salad with the pear, avocado and onion mixture. Makes 4-6 servings.

Pear Tart

1/4 cup cornstarch
½ cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups non-fat milk
1 tsp grated lemon peel
¼ tsp grated lemon peel
¼ tsp orange or almond extract
1 baked nine-inch tart shell
4 Anjou or Bosc Pears, cored and sliced
¼ cup apricot jam, heated

Mix cornstarch and sugar; whisk in eggs. Scald milk; slowly whisk hot milk into egg mixture; return to heat. Stir while cooking until thickened. Stir in peel and extract. COOL. Pour into baked tart shell. Arrange sliced pears on top; brush with warm apricot jam. Chill if you wish then serve.
Note: For a quicker and lower fat tart, use a nonfat vanilla pudding mix instead of preparing the above custard.