Sunday, October 23, 2011

Great Expectations (Roasted Gorgonzola Pear Salad)

Hello, ladies and gents!

Oh. Hi.

Exciting news: A bought me a DSLR camera for my birthday! Now, at least with some practice, you should be able to look forward to some more professional-looking photography. We also shot some recipes of his own over the weekend, so maybe he'll finally post, too. I promise you the pumpkin pancakes are completely worth it. In the meantime, here's my first post with the new camera.

We had a lazy, stay-in weekend, but I still wanted to experiment with something. Luckily, I had an idea. I'm sure it's not original in the least (if you recognize it, please let me know!), but I've had images of a salad topped with half a roasted pear filled with gorgonzola for days, now. Naturally, it was time to turn vision into reality.

Incredible, edible reality
 A is not very fond of pears. Just in general, I think they're a sometimes neglected fruit. The sugary, sandy texture seems to put some people off. I also think most pears don't have much flavor except for when they're perfectly ripened, and that usually takes more planning and patience than I can muster. That's where the importance of the roasting comes in. I have all sorts of culinary fixations, but I think roasting and I were truly meant for each other. First of all: it's so easy.

All you really need to roast most foods is a baking sheet and an oven in excess of 400° F. Leave the item in question to face the heat for about an hour and the job's done for you. It's like falling off a log. The second benefit of roasting is that it does an incredible job of enhancing flavors. You may recall me pointing out that combining virtually anything with puff pastry can result in success, the same is also true of roasting. The dry, indirect heat of roasting promotes caramellization, which will bronze colors and make flavors deeper, sweeter and nuttier. Of course, be aware that diminishing returns apply and caramelization can quickly turn to all-out char.

Caramelization is totally awesome

Since roasting intensifies flavor and caramellization adds another character to the mix entirely, it's a very forgiving method for cooking produce that may be under ripe (I also usually turn to roasting for winter's paler, mealier, hothouse tomatoes). In the case of the pear, not only is it a great way of developing a fuller flavor difficult to distinguish from sun-ripened fruit, it also softens the edges of the pear's "sandy" texture, reducing it to a jammy flesh that runs with hot juices as you bite into it. The melt-in-your mouth effect is enhanced with smooth olive oil and the tangy cream of gorgonzola crumbles. Since the cheese spends some time in the oven, too, those who aren't normally down with the stinkier cheeses will also find it pleasantly mellowed.

Toss these delightful pockets of flavor on top of some cool, crispy greens while they're still warm from the oven, add a light seasonal dressing, and the meal has completed itself for you.

Dramatis personae

Roasted Gorgonzola pear salad, hazelnuts, pomegranate dressing

Pomegranates are another favorite of mine, stemming from an early love of ancient Greek mythology. Even so, it was still years before I actually saw one in a supermarket. They're something of a strange fruit, but they're outstandingly tart-sweet, right in season for fall, and their jewel-like flesh and blood red juice add a great punch of color to the salad. If you can't find pomegranate juice, substitute apple juice or apple cider.

2 large pears, as ripe as possible (I used some lovely, blushing Bartletts that were hard as rocks)
4 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. finely grated nutmeg
2 oz. Gorgonzola cheese (or other blue cheese), crumbled
1/2 lb. baby arugula, washed
1 pomegranate, quartered and arils removed
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, lightly toasted

For the dressing:
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
3 tbs. pomegranate juice or apple cider
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and preheat your oven to 425° F.

Halve each pear lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds, leaving a clean, hemishperical depression. Use a small, sharp knife to quickly extract the tiny strip of the core from the entire length of the fruit. Drizzle the olive oil over the pear halves, sprinkle with pepper and nutmeg, and massage briefly to ensure even coverage. Roast the pears on the center rack for about 45 minutes, until they've gone lightly golden and begun to caramellize around the edges.

Note the round depression and channel through the core
Briefly remove the pears from the oven and fill each central depression with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. Return to the oven 10 to 15 minutes more. The cheese should be just beginning to lose its shape and brown on top.

Rest your pears on the baking sheet for a few moments while you mix your dressing, this is also a great opportunity to toast the hazelnuts. In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate juice and Dijon mustard. Stream in the extra virgin olive oil and whisk vigorously to emulsify. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Whisk it good

To plate, arrange a small mound of baby arugula in the center of each plate and top with a still-warm half of pear. Sprinkle with pomegranate arils and hazelnuts. You may choose to either drizzle two tablespoons of the dressing over each salad and serve immediately, or keep the dressing on the side to serve at the table.

Dig in


Laura said...

Omg look at these photos! They are AMAZING! And I love the new banner! ++

J said...

Thanks, Laura. You know I couldn't have done it without you. Jim Miotke's book was a huge help!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is one gorgeous salad. I haven't seen one quite like it. So many great and cozy fall flavors!

J said...

Thanks so much! It's really all the ingredients' doing. The colors just work so beautifully, together.

As a general rule, I think food photos just look somehow wrong when there isn't any green at all. I think that's part of what makes your zucchini gratin so gorgeous, too.