Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Favorite Thing #1 - Pears

Have I told you lately that I love pears? I do. I love to paint them, eat them, hang them, arrange them, cook with them and look at them. I'm eating a comice variety pear right now, as I look over at the pears hanging on my Christmas tree, all in a room painted a very pale shade of pear-green. I like soft ones, hard ones..red ones, green and yellow ones. I love the way they smell, I love the way they feel on my tongue, and I especially love the way the play well with others.

So, tonight...as I sit here basking in my post-Christmas glow, I will share some yummy winter recipes featuring pears.

For a perfect afternoon snack, place a couple forelle pears (quite small and perfect for a bite) with Taleggio cheese slices and a side of chestnut honey for dipping. If you don't eat honey, coat walnuts in brown sugar and bake until they glaze over. This is a perfect flavor party!

Chestnut Ravioli with Zinfandel Sauce and Grilled Pears
serves 6

16 oz. chestnut ravioli (I get this at an Italian Market, here in Chicago. You could use mushroom as well)

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
12 shallots, diced
16 oz. dried mushrooms (I used porcini and hen of the woods)
pinch of salt and sugar
1 tsp. fresh thyme
2 tsp. fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 c. Zinfandel
2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbsp. tamari
1 Tbsp. balsamic
2 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

2 Bosc pears, cut into slices
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Soak dried mushrooms in 2 cups of warm water. After they are well rehydrated, chop into small chunks.

Preheat oven to 400, or heat your grill to medium.

Slice pears and place in large bowl and toss with oil and vinegar. Set aside.

Heat large pot of water, with a pinch of salt, over high heat.

Heat olive oil over medium heat, in a medium pan. Add shallots and garlic, and cook until just starting to turn brown. Drain mushrooms, but reserve 1 cup of the soaking liquid. Add mushrooms and a bit of salt. Cook about 10 minutes, or until pan starts to get dry. Add pinch of sugar and get things a bit caramelized. Add herbs, including bay leaves. Add wine and scrape up all the bits, then add mushroom liquid and stock, as well as tamari and balsamic vinegar. Lower the heat and simmer about 20 minutes.

In a small sauce pan heat vegetable oil and add flour, stirring to form roux. I cook it until it's the color of "coffee-milk," (that's what we call it in the South). After you brown, set aside to cool before you add to the sauce.

When sauce is reduced add the roux and whisk in...no lumps, please. Pick out the bay leaves and turn off the heat. You can rewarm just before serving over ravioli.

If you're cooking pears in the oven, spread them evenly on a rimmed cookie sheet. If you're grilling them, place in a grilling basket. I put mine in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Put fresh ravioli in boiling water, and/or follow directions on package. Drain well and place evenly on plates. Cover in yummy mushroom sauce, then place grilled pears all around. This is so freakin' good, not difficult and is incredibly pleasing to meat eaters!

Pear and Chocolate Tarte

(wish I had a slice right now! This is not vegan, and I've never tried to convert it, but I will soon and make a note)
serves 6

1 c. all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into little bits, and kept really chilly
1/3 c. confectioners sugar, plus more for rolling dough
2 lg. egg yolks, beaten

3 ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, halved and cored
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temp.
1/3 c. regular sugar
1 lg. egg
2 Tbsp. ground almonds
2/3 c. self-rising flour
1/4 c. cocoa powder
pinch of baking powder (OK, 1/4 tsp....sorry, Geez)
3 Tbsp. milk

Preheat oven to 375. Butter a 9" removable-bottom tarte pan.

Sift flour into large bowl. Add the cold butter bits and crumble through your fingers until it's like sand. If it warms too much, stick it back in the fridge. Stir in confectioners sugar. If you have a pastry cutter, use it...they're great! Add the egg yolks to bring the pastry together. Flatten into a thick pancake and wrap in plastic and place in fridge for 1/2 an hour. Dust a work surface with more confectioners sugar and roll chilled dough out into 9" round. Press into pan bottom, and slightly up the sides (about 1/2" up), gently, and refrigerate again for 30 minutes.

Arrange pear halves, round side up, in the pan, atop the chilled dough. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add egg and almonds. Sift in flour, cocoa and baking powder. Add milk until batter is smooth. Pour in pan, over pears. Bake 30 minutes, then cover with foil and bake another 15-20 minutes, or until center is firm. Cool before cutting.