Photo by Maria Robledo
To make Essential Roasted Pears, click here for the recipe.
As I've gotten older, I find my cooking revolves around simple, essential approaches and base formulas rather than actual recipes. I use them as jumping off points from which to improvise, which makes cooking fluid, in-the-moment, and often surprising.
Throughout fall and winter, one of my favorite improvisational "base" preparations is roasted pears. These are pears that are roasted with a bit of sugar, lemon juice, butter, and a split vanilla bean or even herbs, until they become tender and caramelized, with a concentrated pear flavor. Roasted pears are one of those miraculous recipes that are easy to make and have endless applications, both sweet and savory.
You can roast just about any kind of pear from tiny Seckel pears to Comice or Anjou, to interesting varieties found in the farmer's market, as long as they are slightly firm and fragrant.
Very small pears like Seckel take especially well to savory treatments; when roasted whole or halved with the stem intact, several can be clustered in a serving. Here are some ways I've used them over the years to give an idea of the possibilities:
• As an accompaniment for Thanksgiving turkey instead of cranberry sauce
• Alongside pork, quail, chicken, guinea hen, ham, or sausages instead of applesauce or other sweet flavor counterpoints
• As a first course with thinly sliced proscuitto de Parma or serrano ham
• Quartered or sliced in a salad with watercress or arugula, dressed with an aged sherry vinegar vinaigrette
• As a cheese course with Roquefort, an aged gouda, or an aged goat or sheep's milk cheese, along with toasted walnuts
Larger pears like Comice, Bartlett or Anjou, which are fleshier and creamier than seckel pears, make especially wonderful desserts:
• Served warm in a shallow bowl with creme anglaise, whipped cream, creme fraiche, or fine vanilla ice cream and/or a plain butter cookie
• Arrange them in a pre-baked pie shell or a phyllo pastry shell, shellac with their syrupy juices and serve with whipped crème fraiche
• For an instant roasted pear sorbet, slice and freeze the roasted pear flesh on a sheet pan and puree in a food processor. Add a drizzle of cold pear eau de vie, or serve alongside
• Coarsely mash or chop roasted pears to use as a "confit" to serve with pork, ham, pates, roasted chicken, or alongside desserts, or lemon-scented pancakes