Friday, January 9, 2009
Pears in Honey Pine Nut Caramel with Artisanal Cheese
Between the hectic pace of entertaining for the holidays and the peak excitement of preparing for all the upcoming inauguration parties, it might be just the right moment for a simple and beautiful little fruit recipe that is both elegant and delicious without a lot of fuss or fret. Pears are so good and plentiful right now, I thought it would be fun to do a simple riff on a recipe from Deborah Madison, famed for her vegetarian cookbooks and her dedication to fresh local produce.
If you’ve ever wished you could combine your dessert and cheese course, I highly recommend this great example of the perfect blend of fruit, nuts and cheese. The fresh fruit is delicately simmered just until tender in a delicious honey butter sauce. The caramel adds a shimmer of lusciousness that will leave you in unmistakable bliss. The pine nuts bring a creamy richness and nutty textural element. Perfecto. So if you’d like a little respite from the party production line, this dessert is like a soft pillow landing.
I once worked for a cheesemonger and it was one of the most interesting and enriching experiences I’ve had in the culinary world. Learning in greater depth about the origin and variety of hundreds of artisan cheeses available from the far reaches of the globe proved to be a total thrill. Among the many pleasures are all the rustic but elegant ways artisan cheeses are aged and packaged. The various papers, cheesecloth, farm stamps and seals are such a rich reminder that these supreme cheeses are crafted by hand and packaged with the heritage of all the local traditions. The colors and smells and tastes run the full range of every nuance imaginable. And the process of deciding on the language to describe the complexity and uniqueness of each one, determining the delectable garnishes and accompaniments that would enhance the tasting and then selecting the soothing wine pairings is clearly never-ending. It's really just so much fun.
Take a few moments to prepare and savor this divine little dessert. You’ll be sure to find yourself thinking about who might be next on your list to share and delight in this simple and sigh-inducing luxury.
- Use a delicious fresh goat cheese or any favorite cheese that will melt easily. Humboldt Fog is delicious, as is Alta la tur, Robiola Bosina, Cana de Cabra, Purple Haze, Cravanzina, Valdeon, Roquefort or any creamy blue. Make it fun!
- I’ve reduced the butter in the original recipe by 1 T and added a bit of acid to brighten the caramel and cut the richness of the butter. I recommend rice wine vinegar or lemon juice, adding to taste.
- I used 2 pears and found that there was a good portion of sauce, but 3 pears will work, too.
- This is also good with a fresh grind of pepper.
Pears in Honey and Pine Nut Caramel with Artisanal Cheese
adapted from Deborah Madison
2 oz (4 T) unsalted butter (I reduced it to 3 T)
3 firm but ripe Bosc pears (I used 2 pears)
3 1/2 T mild honey
4 oz artisanal cheese (such as Point Reyes Original Blue, Humboldt Fog, dry Monterey Jack, sheep's-milk ricotta, tangy soft fresh goat cheese, or other local cheese) @ room temperature
3 T pine nuts
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 t rice wine vinegar or lemon juice, to taste (my addition)
Peel pears and cut in half. Core them and rub with lemon juice.
Melt butter in a skillet over medium high heat until it just begins to brown. Add pear halves cut side down and drizzle with honey. Swirl the pan gently to blend the butter and honey. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook pears until tender when pierced with a knife. Check every few minutes to baste the pears and to be sure that the caramel is not getting too dark. Add a bit of water if caramel sauce turns deep amber before pears are tender, about 12 minutes.
Transfer the pears, cut side up, to serving plates. Top the pear cavities with crumbled cheese. Return the caramel sauce to medium-high heat. Add the pine nuts and sprinkle lightly with salt to taste. Add vinegar or lemon juice to taste. Cook until sauce is brown and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Spoon sauce over pears and serve.