I'm partial to pears. This fruit has sweet, juicy, almost silky flesh, making it great to eat whole. In recipes, pears are most accommodating, working in dishes both savoury and sweet. To end a fine meal, set out some pears with an assortment of fine cheese and, perhaps, some port and life will be good.
Pears are also an attractive-looking fruit and that's a good thing because they may be sitting in your fruit bowl a few days. According to the New Food Lover's Companion, Mother Nature protected the easily bruised pear by making it better to be picked when mature, but still hard and not ripe. Unlike most fruit, pears are best ripened off the tree, where they improve in both texture and flavour, the book says.
Picking pears when not ripe also makes them easier to transport. That explains why the pears you see in stores and farm markets are often in wonderful-looking condition, but still feel firm, ready for you to take them home and ripen them there.
To do that, you must leave the pears out at room temperature. To speed up the process, you could place the pears in a paper bag, which will concentrate the ethylene the fruit naturally gives off that helps ripen the fruit. To speed up the process even more, place other ethylene-emitting fruit in the bag with the pears, such as apples or bananas.
When ripe, some varieties, such as Bartlett pears, change from green to yellow. Others, such as Anjou, Bosc, Seckel, do not change much in colour as they ripen. Because of that, you'll have to feel the pear to gauge ripeness.
According to the USA Pears website, usapears.org, because pears ripen from the inside out, the best way to check for ripeness is to "check the neck." To do this, gently press near the stem with your thumb. When it gives to gentle pressure, it is ripe and ready to eat. The website says if you wait until the pear is soft around the middle, it will be overripe.
To prolong shelf life after pears have ripened, store them in the refrigerator and plan to eat or use them in a recipe within a few days. If you've bought a pile of pears because the price was right, only ripen what you will eat in the next while and refrigerate the others until you're ready to ripen another batch. Unripe pears will keep a few weeks in the refrigerator.
Pears are an excellent source of dietary fibre, a good source of vitamin C and also contain potassium. There are thousands of varieties. On the USA Pears website noted above, and the B.C. Tree Fruit website, bctree.com, you'll see images, descriptions and suggested uses for a variety of pears.
As noted, pears can be used in all sorts of sweet and savoury preparations. Today, I showcase them in recipes for a fine autumn soup, brilliant chutney and a flaky free-form tart called a galette.
Pear and Blackberry Galette
Galettes are a free-form type of tart that, in this case, I made with storebought puff pastry.
The recipe makes two galettes, yielding 12 servings. It's a tasty dessert you could serve at a festive fall gathering or bring to a potluck. I didn't toss the blackberries with the pear filling, but instead set them separately into each galette. Doing this helped them hold their shape better, making them look more attractive in the galette.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes (per galette)
Makes: 2 galette (12 servings)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
5 just ripe (but still a little firm) medium Bartlet, Anjou or Bosc pears
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus some for the work surface
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
? pinch salt
1 (397 gram) pkg. frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) blackberries
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 large egg beaten with 2 Tbsp milk
? icing sugar for dusting
? whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, to taste
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Halve, core and slice each pear lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place slices, sugar, flour, spices and salt in the bowl with the lemon juice and toss to combine.
Lightly flour a work surface. Cut the pastry, widthwise, in half. Set one of the pieces on the work surface. Gently roll into a 10 x 10inch square (does not have to be perfectly square). Set the rolled pastry in the centre of one of the baking sheets. Roll out the other piece of pastry and set it on the other baking sheet.
Arrange 1/2 cup of blackberries in and around the centre of each piece of pastry. Divide and mound the coated pear slices on top of the berries, leaving a 2-inch border of clean dough around the fruit. Divide and arrange remaining berries on top of the pears. Fold the clean edges of pastry up and partially over the filling, leaving the centre open. Brush the top and sides of the pastry with milk/egg mixture. Sprinkle the top pastry and fruit filling on each galette with 1 tsp granulated sugar. Refrigerate galettes 30 minutes (this will firm up the pastry and make it puff better when baked).
Preheat the oven 375 F. Bake one of the galettes 40 minutes, until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and set on a baking rack. Bake the other galette.
When ready to serve, dust the galettes lightly with icing sugar. Slice and plate the galette. Serve each portion with dollop of whipped cream, or scoop of ice cream.
Pear Cranberry Chutney with Candied Ginger
This nicely spiced, colourful, sweet-and sourtasting condiment can be served with cheese, scones or roasts, such as turkey or pork.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Makes: 2 1/2 cups
1 (300 gram) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup golden brown sugar
2 just ripe (but still a little firm) medium Bartlet or Anjou pears, halved, cored and cut into 1/4-to 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup finely diced candied ginger (see Note)
1 cup orange juice mixed with
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
? pinch salt
Place all the ingredients in a medium-sized pot and set over medium heat.
Bring mixture to a gentle simmer for 25 minutes, or just until the cranberries begin to soften and slightly fall apart. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Transfer chutney to a tight-sealing jar and refrigerate until needed. Chutney will keep at least two weeks.
Note: Candied - also called crystallized - ginger is sold in bags or in bulk at most supermarkets. You'll need 4 to 6 pieces of it, depending on size and shape, to get the 1/4 cup required of it, chopped, needed for the recipe. Finely diced, in this case, means to cut the ginger into small, 1/8-to 1/4-inch cubes.
Parsnip and Pear Soup with Maple Balsamic Drizzle
Parsnip and pear combine in this wonderful autumn soup accented with a sweet and sour drizzle of maple syrup and balsamic vinegar.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 lbs. parsnips (about 3 small to medium), peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh ginger
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 small to medium ripe Bartlet or other pears, peeled, cored and cubed
1/4 cup whipping cream (optional)
? salt and white pepper to taste
2 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
? chopped fresh parsley or thinly sliced green onion for garnish
Place the oil in a soup pot set over medium heat. Add the parsnips, onion, garlic and ginger and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Mix in the flour until well combined. While stirring, slowly pour in the stock. Mix in the pears. Bring soup to a gentle simmer. Simmer soup until the parsnips and pears are very tender, about 15 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor, or in the pot with an immersion blender. Return the soup to a simmer; mix in the whipping cream, if using. Season the soup with salt and pepper.
Combine the maple syrup and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Ladle the soup into heated bowls. Use a small spoon to drizzle the top of each bowl of soup with a little of the maplebalsamic mixture. Sprinkle each soup with a little parsley or sliced green onion and serve.
Eric Akis is the author of the best-selling Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
Note: In last week's column on local food and drink events, I gave incorrect information about Art of the Cocktail's Grand Tasting event. Tickets for the Grand Tasting are $45 and include two cocktail samples, not five as I noted. Additional cocktail samples are just $1 each (cash only). For more information and tickets for this event and others, go to artofthecocktail.ca
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