Ingredient of the Month: Pears

Throughout fall and winter one of my favorite secret ingredients is pears—that is, Roasted Pears. These are pears that are roasted with a bit of sugar, lemon juice, butter, and a split vanilla bean or even herbs, until they become tender and caramelized with a concentrated pear flavor. The recipe for Roasted Pears is easy to make and has endless applications, both sweet and savory—a jumping off point from which to improvise, with delicious and often surprising results. It’s one the improvisational “base” preparations I rely on throughout the winter months.

You can roast just about any kind of pear—from tiny Seckel pears, to Comice or Anjou, to interesting varieties found in the farmer’s market—as long as they are slightly firm and fragrant. Very small pears like Seckels take especially well to savory treatments, in part because of how they look: when roasted whole or halved with the stem intact, several can be clustered in a serving. Here are some ways I’ve used them over the years, to give an idea of the possibilities:

  • alongside pork, quail, chicken, guinea hen, ham, or sausages instead of applesauce or other sweet flavor counterpoints
  • as an accompaniment for turkey instead of cranberry sauce
  • as a first course with thinly sliced prosciutto de Parma or serrano ham
  • quartered or sliced in a salad of watercress or arugula dressed with a vinaigrette made with aged sherry vinegar
  • in a cheese course with Roquefort, an aged gouda, and sheep’s milk cheese or mildly aged goat cheeses, along with toasted walnuts

Larger pears like Comice, Bartlett, or Anjou, which are fleshier and creamier than Seckel pears, make especially wonderful desserts:

  • served warm in a shallow bowl with creme anglaise, whipped cream, creme fraiche, or fine vanilla ice cream and/or a plain butter cookie
  • arranged in a prebaked pie shell or a phyllo pastry shell; shellac with the syrupy juices and serve with whipped crème fraiche
  • for an instant roasted pear sorbet, slice and freeze the roasted pear flesh on a sheet pan and puree in a food processor. Add a drizzle of cold pear eau de vie, or serve alongside.
  • coarsely mash or chop roasted pears to use as a “confit” to serve with pork, ham, pates, roasted chicken, or alongside desserts, or lemon-scented pancakes

Recipe: Essential Roasted Pears
Vanilla bean accentuates the pears’ perfume, but is not essential. You can also tuck sprigs of thyme among the pears.

Serves 4

  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
  • 1½ pounds slightly under-ripe, fragrant medium pears, peeled if desired, and halved through the stem
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.

Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut-side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar.

Nestle the vanilla pod among the fruit. Pour 2 tablespoons water into the dish. Dot each pear with some butter.

Roast the pears 30 minutes, brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer. (If the pears are small, test for doneness after 35 or 40 minutes of cooking; a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance). Serve warm.

Adapted from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider

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