To most people, golden leaves and cooler temperatures signal fall's arrival. For me, it's the bounty of the harvest. What has taken the farmer months to nurture finally comes to fruition. And perhaps the most extraordinary fall arrival is the pear.
The flavor of pears is lighter and more subtle than that of apples. Pears should be picked while still hard. Unlike most fruit, pears improve both in texture and flavor after they are picked. Luckily, today's transportation methods make pears from around the world readily available, including French Comice, red and golden Bartletts, Boscs and Anjous.
* Advantages: Raw pears, like apples, are low in calories. It is only when they are prepared with sugar, cream and butter that the calories climb.
* Selecting pears: Look for ripe, supple pears or ones that are just about to ripen. They should be free of cuts, bruises and soft spots. If possible, buy pears three to six days before you need them and ripen them in a paper bag large enough so they do not touch one another. To hasten ripening, put an apple in the bag. Cut a few holes in the bag to provide ventilation. Place the bag out of direct sunlight and keep it at room temperature.
* Storing pears: Refrigerated pears can hold their just-ripe state for up to five days. Let the fruit come to room temperature before using it.
* Preparing pears: If you prefer fruit without the peel, rub the peeled fruit with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent browning.
* Tricks of the trade: In the recipe below, soak the dried cherries in a little warm red wine or fruit juice to rehydrate them before serving. They will be easier to spear with your fork as well as chew.
* Mix and match: Sliced, julienne or even diced ripe pear is a wonderful fresh condiment to any salad. Mix and match with your favorite ingredients and even with other autumn fruits such as apples.
Autumn Pear, Blue Cheese and Dried Cherry Salad
1 cup dried cherries
1 1/2 cups dry red wine, warmed (or substitute cranberry juice)
1/2 cup aged sherry wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil
3 large ripe pears, washed
red-wine vinegar for drizzling
4 cups baby autumn salad greens
1/2 cup crumbled premium blue cheese such as Maytag or Roquefort
1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces
1/2 cup snipped fresh chives
In a small bowl, combine the dried cherries and 1 cup of the warmed red wine. Steep at room temperature for at least 2 hours to soften the cherries. (To prepare more quickly, heat the cherries in the wine until plumped, then refrigerate to cool to room temperature).
In a blender, combine half of the rehydrated cherries, the remaining red wine, the sherry vinegar, a pinch of salt and a generous shot of black pepper. Puree until combined, then add the oil slowly. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Reserve at room temperature if using immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Using a mandoline (or similar slicer), slice the pears paper-thin, keeping the pear shape. Lay the slices out on parchment paper. Drizzle with a little vinegar and season with freshly ground black pepper.
In a large bowl, combine the salad greens, the remaining rehydrated cherries, the blue cheese and the dressing, tossing to evenly coat the greens. Artistically lay half of the pears on the serving plates in a star shape. Divide and mound the salad in the center of the pears. Lay the remaining pear slices leaning almost upright on the salad. Sprinkle the salad with the walnuts and chives. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 429 calories (83 percent from fat), 39 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat), 12 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams protein, 206 milligrams sodium, 11 milligrams cholesterol, 111 milligrams calcium, 2 grams fiber