Food & Drink

Cowgirl Chef: Pears are the apple of my eye

A salad that pays tribute to all things we love about fall – roasted pears, arugula, quinoa, Gorgonzola, walnuts – what’s not to like?
A salad that pays tribute to all things we love about fall – roasted pears, arugula, quinoa, Gorgonzola, walnuts – what’s not to like? Special to the Star-Telegram

Dunk them in a thick layer of caramel or stuff them into a pie with cinnamon — I’m still not a big fan of apples. But pears, that’s another story.

To me, this time of year is about pears like summer is about peaches. Biting into my first pear each September is something I look forward to each year, even though their arrival means cold weather isn’t far behind.

When pears are in season, I buy them in twos and threes, like I do with peaches, so there’s always one that’s ripe and ready to eat. I like to put chopped pears, skins and all, in my oatmeal, stirred into a bowl of Greek yogurt with some muesli, or tossed on a salad. Endlessly versatile, pears’ sweetness and slightly exotic flavor play well with so many others.

In the savory world, pears love a simple oven bake with a bit of Roquefort or another salty cheese stuffed in the middle, then drizzled with honey and eaten while warm. They’re also great matched with crispy bacon, pancetta or thin slices of prosciutto or saucisson.

Tossed into a salad of just about any sort, pears offer a bit of surprising sweetness. You can slice them and lay them out on a cheese plate, with something salty, something gooey (Brie or Camembert), something creamy (fresh chevre) and something a bit more firm (manchego) for dessert. They can also add a little special something to the everyday — I’m planning on adding pears to my next batch of butternut squash soup.

Pears take well to cinnamon, vanilla, and a bit of brown sugar, but they’ll also welcome other warm spices like cardamom and ginger. Pears’ intense sweetness makes them naturals for desserts, from ice creams and sorbets to all sorts of baked goods, from crisps and pies to cakes. Like apples, they’ll hold up nicely when added to baked goods, if you don’t overcook them; bigger pieces work best in pies and cobblers and smaller ones in cakes.

My rule for pears and what to make with them: Have no rules. Look in the spice cabinet and think about what you haven’t used with them before. Look in your fridge and see what else you’ve got on hand, something that’s also in season. Pears and spinach? Beets, too? Absolutely.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com, @cowgirlchef.

Pear oatmeal cake

Makes 1 (8-inch-by-4-inch) loaf

Confession: I ate more than half of this cake in less than 24 hours. It’s that good. It’s not a fluffy cake. It’s dense and oatmealy, with lots of pear. Plus it happens to be gluten-free.

  • 1 firm pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 stick ( 1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided use
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cream

1. Heat oven to 350 and line an 8-inch-by-4-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.

2. Toss the pear pieces with lemon juice in a small bowl.

2. In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon butter and brown sugar until it begins to caramelize. Add the pears and cook until they soften slightly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let this cool while you make the cake batter.

3. Mix  1/2 cup softened butter and sugar on high speed in a mixer until it’s fluffy and light. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another minute or two.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oatmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add this to the mixture and combine.

5. Mix in the milk but don’t overmix.

6. Fold in the cooled pear mixture and pour the batter into your prepared pan. Bake for 55 minutes or until firm. Let cool completely before removing from the pan. Mix the powdered sugar and cream and drizzle over the top.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 172 calories, 11 grams fat, 16 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 44 milligrams cholesterol, 214 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 55 percent of calories from fat.

Inspired by a recipe on yammiesnoshery.com

Pear chips with feta-yogurt dip

Makes about 2 dozen chips and 1  1/4 cups dip

These pear chips with the feta-yogurt dip make a great holiday dinner party appetizer or afternoon snack for the kids. I’m planning to make a batch for my next airplane ride across the pond.

  • 2 pears, firm
  • 5 ounces Greek or full-fat yogurt
  • 5 ounces feta cheese
  • Fresh herbs, such as thyme, basil, parsley

1. Heat oven to 200 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

2. With a mandolin or sharp knife (a mandolin is preferred to get the slices super-thin), slice the pears — skins, seeds and all — and lay out on the baking sheet as closely as you can to one another, because they’ll shrink.

3. Bake both pans for 1  1/2 hours, turn the pear slices to the other side and bake for 1 1/2 hours more. Turn off the oven and let them cool completely, for another couple of hours or so (I like to leave them in overnight).

4. In a food processor, mix the Greek yogurt, feta and fresh chopped herbs. Chill and serve with the pear chips.

Nutritional analysis per 3 pear chips: 24 calories, trace fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, no sodium, trace dietary fiber, 2 percent of calories from fat.

Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving of dip: 26 calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 7 milligrams cholesterol, 82 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 67 percent of calories from fat.

Pear handpies

Makes 6 to 8

These are even better served with a scoop of ice cream on top, which makes them technically not pies you can eat with your hands, unless you don’t mind the mess.

Pear filling:

  • 2 pounds pears, firm
  •  1/4 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • Pinch salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Peel, core and chop the pears into 1-inch pieces, and toss them with the lemon juice.

2. Put the pears in a saucepan along with the cinnamon, cardamom, salt and sugar. Let come to a simmer.

3. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water and slowly add this to the pears. Stir, lower the heat and let this cook until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate. Note: You can make this the day before.

Pie dough:

  • 2  1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 eggs (divided use)
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

1. Put flour, sugar and sea salt in a food processor and pulse a time or two. Add the butter cubes and pulse quickly, just until the butter is the size of pebbles.

2. Whisk 1 egg with half of the ice water and slowly add this to the mixture while pulsing, then add as much additional water as needed — just until the dough starts to come together but is still quite crumbly and you can pinch it together easily with your fingertips. You don’t want it to be one big mass. Dump the dough bits onto a piece of plastic wrap and gently press together into a fat disc. Wrap it up, and pop into the fridge for an hour. You can also do this a day in advance and keep the dough in the fridge.

To make pies:

1. Heat oven to 375 and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle and cut out 6-inch dough circles, then place each circle on the parchment paper. If the dough’s too soft to fill, pop it back in the fridge to firm up for a half-hour or so.

3. Put  1/4 cup of the pears on one side of each piece of dough, leaving enough room to fold the dough over and have a half-inch border. Fold over the dough and, using a fork, seal the sides together. Also, prick the top of the dough a few times with the fork. Whisk the second egg with a little bit of water and lightly brush over the top.

4. Bake for 30 minutes or until browned on the edges.

Nutritional analysis per handpie, based on 6: 654 calories, 33 grams fat, 84 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 153 milligrams cholesterol, 673 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 45 percent of calories from fat.

Roasted pear salad

Makes 2 servings

I love this salad because it has so many textures, colors and contrasts, yet blends together naturally.

Salad:

  • 1 large, firm pear
  • 2 handfuls arugula
  • 1  1/2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 1/2 ounces Gorgonzola, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Walnut vinaigrette:

  • 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallot
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil

1. Heat oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Slice the pear into 8 to 12 pieces, depending on the size of the pear. Put these on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until the edges start to brown. Turn them to the other side and bake about 10 more minutes, until the second side is lightly browned on the edges, too.

3. While the pears are roasting, mix together the vinaigrette. Put the mustard, vinegar and shallot into a bowl and mix. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Whisk in the oils and taste. Adjust seasonings. Set this aside.

4. Mix together the arugula and quinoa and put on a large serving plate. Add the pears, Gorgonzola, walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of the vinaigrette and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 765 calories, 52 grams fat, 63 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 32 milligrams cholesterol, 545 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 58 percent of calories from fat.

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