Pears, in all their voluptuous juiciness, are autumn’s gem, but are often overlooked in favour of apples. To get the best from them, wait until they are ripe – only then will you be rewarded with all their rapturous flavour, which can range from rosy to buttery. While pears are excellent eaten just as they are, they are also versatile enough for pickling, poaching and baking, and make a wonderful addition to salads, savouries and desserts.
Pickled pear and gorgonzola rarebit (pictured top)
Pears and cheese are a match made in heaven, and here the fruit is pickled to cut through the richness of supremely creamy gorgonzola. The resulting rarebit is a cheesy toast to dream about.
Prep 20 min
Cook 30 min
For the pickled pears
100ml white wine vinegar
50g caster sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon quill
1 strip of lemon rind
Sea salt and black pepper
2–3 firm but ripe pears, cored and sliced
For the rarebits
50ml whole milk
150g gruyere, grated
2 tsp dijon mustard
10g plain flour
25g white breadcrumbs
2 egg yolks
4 thick slices sourdough
A handful of walnuts
To make the pickle, combine the vinegar, sugar, spices, lemon rind, a pinch of salt and 100ml water in a small saucepan on a medium heat, simmer for three minutes, then leave to cool to room temperature. Cut the pears into thin slices, drop them into the pickling liquid for 15 minutes, then drain.
Turn on the grill to high, and make the rarebit mix while it’s heating up. Warm the milk, gruyere and mustard in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring to melt the cheese. Add the flour and breadcrumbs, and cook, stirring constantly, for five to 10 minutes more, until thickened. Leave to cool slightly, then beat in the egg yolks. Crumble in the blue cheese in large chunks, then season to taste.
Toast the bread on both sides, then spread a 1cm layer of the rarebit mix on one side of each slice. Put the toasts cheese side up under the hot grill and cook for a minute or so, until golden brown and singed in places. Layer the pickled pears on top, and crumble over a few walnuts. Serve the bubbling rarebits with a crisp, sharply dressed salad for a simple lunch.
Poached pear and mascarpone layered pudding
This elegant, layered pudding makes the most of the silken flesh of the pears by bathing them in sweet wine.
Prep 25 min
Cook 25 min
Chill 4 hr +
6 comice pears
1 vanilla pod
550g caster sugar
750ml sweet wine – moscato would be ideal
1 strip of lemon peel
4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus a few picked thyme leaves to garnish
2 eggs, separated
25ml brandy (or poire williams eau de vie, if you have it)
250g creme fraiche
75g dark chocolate, grated
1 x 200g packet savoiardi biscuits, or sponge fingers
Peel the pears, leaving the stalks intact, then cut them in half lengthways. Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the seeds and put them in a large saucepan with the empty pod, 500g sugar, wine, lemon peel, thyme and 500ml water. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, simmer for a minute, then drop in the pear halves, and cover with a round of baking paper topped with a small heatproof plate to keep them submerged. Simmer for 12-15 minutes, until tender, then take off the heat and leave to cool.
Whisk the egg yolks, remaining 50g sugar, brandy and a tablespoon of water in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water for five to eight minutes, until pale and thick, then leave to cool.
Whisk the mascarpone and creme fraiche to combine, then fold this through the cooled and thickened egg yolk mixture along with the grated chocolate. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then fold those through the mix, too, and refrigerate until needed.
Cut two of the pear halves into 1cm-thick slices, then thinly cut the remaining pear halves lengthways, but not all the way through, so they hold together and retain their shape.
To assemble, briefly dip half the savoiardi in the pear poaching liquid and arrange in the base of a 25cm-diameter, round serving dish. Spoon over half the mascarpone mixture, then layer the thin pear slices on top, overlapping them slightly. Repeat with another layer each of soaked biscuits and the remaining mascarpone mix. Carefully lift the sliced pear halves on top, so they hold their shape, and arrange over the surface of the mascarpone. Refrigerate for four to six hours, and serve sprinkled with a few freshly picked thyme leaves.
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