Tag Archives: pears

Spinach, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Hazelnuts

3 May

Do you ever wonder what makes the perfect salad?  Not really?  Just me?  I’ve thought long and hard about this—because that’s what I do, my friends, I think about salad—and I have to say that the elements that make a perfect salad, though constantly evolving, are almost always related to one magical element: texture.

Sure, flavor counts (obviously), but I think a salad’s texture will make or break it faster than the time it takes to swallow your first bite.  No matter how good a salad might taste, I find that, if the greens are soggy, the vegetables limp, or the various add-ons mushy or pasty, it takes a bit of effort to make each bite go down.  This is, of course, no scientific study I am undertaking here, but just a very personal observation.  And since I eat a lot of salad, I’d like to think that my established findings on the quality of salad-making hold at least a bit of weight.  Even if they don’t, I have good news for you.  I think I just made a salad with the most pleasing texture I have ever encountered.

Crisp spinach paired with crunchy-thin slices of fresh fennel provide a lovely base.  Perfectly ripe pears, so juicy and perfumed, counter the crispness of the spinach and fennel.  Toasted hazlenuts, flavored with a smidge of sea salt and brown butter to make their nuttiness even more forward, accent the crunch of the salad, but also pair perfectly with the pears.  A light vinaigrette drizzled over everything provides a punch of fruity acidity and, though I am aware that I have now started naming attributes that don’t concern texture, I don’t even know how to stop talking about how much I love this salad.  Sure, it’s true that I like almost all salad, but this salad?  This is a salad that everyone will like.

Last Year: Ya Hala’s Hummus This is, hands down, the best hummus you’ll ever eat

Spinach, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Hazelnuts Recipe

½ cup whole hazelnuts

1 large fennel bulb, green fronds and core removed

juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

large pinch of coarse sea salt

5 ounces spinach leaves, washed and dried

1 large ripe pear

Apple Cider Vinaigrette

juice of ½ a lemon

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon unfiltered apple cider

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Arrange hazelnuts on a baking sheet, then toast in oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the skins of the nuts begin to peel loose and the nuts appear dark golden brown.  Remove the nuts to a clean dishtowel, then wrap the towel around the nuts and allow to sit for a couple of minutes.  Then, with your hands, vigorously rub the hazelnuts in the dishtowel to remove the hazelnut skins.  Coarsely chop the de-skinned nuts (cutting them in half is just fine—you want nice big bites here), then set aside.

Slice the fennel to be as thin as possible, using either a mandoline or an extremely sharp knife.  In a medium bowl, combine the fennel slices and the lemon juice, tossing to coat all the fennel in the lemon juice.  Set aside.

In a small pan, heat the butter over medium heat.  Allow the butter to melt, then foam, then begin to sputter.  Stirring and watching the butter the whole time, allow it to turn a nutty dark brown.  Immediately pour the browned butter into a small bowl, then add the hazelnuts and toss to combine.  Add the pinch of sea salt and toss some more.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, and apple cider.  Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking all the while to combine until the dressing is thick and emulsified.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the spinach in a large bowl.  Core and slice the pear into thin slices, then add the pears to the spinach.  Pour the fennel, with any lemon juice remaining in the bowl, on top of the pears.  Give the hazelnuts in brown butter a bit of a stir, then add half of the nuts to the salad.  Pour half of the dressing over the salad, then toss to combine evenly.  Taste the salad to see if you desire more dressing.  Add as much dressing as you deem fit (some people like more dressing, some like less, so I am leaving the finished amount up to personal taste).  Serve the salad with the remaining hazelnuts sprinkled over the top of each serving.

Makes 4 very large servings, or 8 side salads.

Pear Nougatine Tart

21 Dec

Overlooking the obvious can lead to rather surprising results.  Sometimes those surprising results are of the pleasing variety, like when you realize that the only reason you get food from an otherwise sub-par taqueria is because of the fact that they have a salsa bar that offers the world’s most incredible habanero salsa.  When you realize this, you then go home and make your own batch of habanero salsa, freeing you from the clutches of the not-so-great Mexican food you’ve been eating just to serve as a base for the salsa in question.  Problem solved!  (And the you in question is, in fact, actually me, in case anyone didn’t pick up on that right away.)

Other times, overlooking the obvious can lead to surprisingly disappointing results, like when I decided to make a particular tart that was so named for the fact that it was topped with candy, not fully realizing that, lady, you’re about to top a tart with candy, which means that things are going to get really, really sugary around here.

Yes, when I first made this tart, I lamented the fact that it was far, far too sweet for my tastes.  At first I couldn’t figure out why, because I was too focused on the tart’s other, more pleasing, qualities (like, for instance, the shot of lemon that wakes up every other flavor, or the small splash of cream that I added to the pear caramel to round everything out), but then, looking back on the recipe, and, you know, its name, it suddenly occurred to me that I had just made a tart topped with candied nuts.  So, that’s going to be sort of sweet.

Because of this, I actually debated whether or not to share my experience with this recipe, not being sure if I wanted to highlight something that I thought needed its sweetness dialed back so severely.  In the end, realizing that the rest of the recipe is fairly delightful, it seemed like the recipe did need to be shared, albeit in a somewhat less-sweetened form.  And even though I swapped out the original recipe’s call for apples with my own penchant for pears, and I ever-so-slightly altered the pears’ cooking method in order to get a more usable sauce in the end.  Okay, so there is a fair amount that I changed about this recipe, but only because I had a hunch that what I found to be almost perfect could, with a bit of fiddling, be made to shine.  And at the risk of sounding like a weird pageant mom, I think that bit of polishing has rendered this tart now ready for its close-up.

Pear Nougatine Tart

Adapted from Tartine

Fully baked 10-inch tart shell (recipe here, only for a fully baked tart shell, bake the shell for a total of 30-35 minutes, 20 minutes with pie weights, and 10-15 minutes with the foil and weights removed, until the crust is golden brown)

Pear filling:

3 pounds just ripened pears (over-ripe pears will fall apart when cooked, so make sure your pears still have a bit of firmness to them), peeled, cored, and sliced into quarters

¼ cup (4 tablespoons, or 2 ounces) unsalted butter

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) sugar

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons heavy cream

lemon juice and grated zest of ½ a medium lemon


1 cup sliced almonds

¼ cup sugar

2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place fully baked tart shell on a baking sheet and set aside.

Have a large bowl ready to hold the sautéed pears.  You will be sautéing the pears in 4 batches, so divide the pears as needed.  In a heavy sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and allow it to just caramelize with the butter, turning a medium brown.  Add 1 batch of the pears to the pan in a single layer.  Saute until soft, turning a few times with a spoon.  If the sugar begins to darken too dramatically, reduce the heat to low.  The pears should become quite soft and caramelized as they cook, but still hold their shape.  The timing of this will depend on the ripeness of your pears, but it should not take more than 5 minutes.  When the pears are caramelized and soft, transfer them to the waiting bowl.  Add another tablespoon of butter and sugar to the pan, not cleaning the pan between batches.  Add another batch of pears, and cook as you did the first batch.  The second batch should not take as long as the first.  Continue with the remaining batches of butter, sugar, and pears, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the caramel in the pan from burning.

When all of the pears have cooked, the caramel remaining in the pan should be quite dark.  Increase the heat under the pan to medium high, then deglaze the pan with 3 tablespoons of water, scraping up the bubbling caramelized bits with a wooden spoon or a wire whisk.  When most of the bits from the pan have been loosened, add the heavy cream and continue to stir or whisk until the liquid has reduced by about 1/3.

Pour the reduced caramel and cream mixture over the sautéed pears, then toss to combine.  Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt to the pears, then toss once more.  Pile the pears into the baked tart shell.

To make the topping, combine the almonds, sugar, egg whites, and salt in a small bowl.  Stir well to combine.  Spread the almond mixture evenly over the pears, extending the topping all the way to the edges of the tart.

Bake the tart on a baking sheet, in the middle of the oven, until the topping is browned, about 30 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

Pear and Chocolate Bread Pudding

21 Nov

Do you believe that the subconscious can really drive one’s actions?  That inclinations deep inside you can dictate your unwitting behavior?  Sometimes I really do wonder, most pointedly because lately, completely contrary to what had previously passed as the norm around here, I have been leaving loaves of delicious, crusty bread out on the counter, allowing them to become stale beyond the limits of standard consumption.  But then, stale and slightly dry, what do they then magically transform into?  Perfect bread for bread pudding, that’s what.

I will eat bread pudding in any form.  Made with brioche, a baguette, or, as is the standard at the legendary Heathman Restaurant and Bar, lightly drizzled with warm caramel sauce, I do not believe that there is a bread pudding I would not eat, love, and cherish to the very end.  (Except perhaps for that one horrifying recipe I once saw that made bread pudding with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, sweetened condensed milk, and a couple of tins of fruit cocktail.  No.  Just no.)

My preferred bread pudding is decidedly mellow on the sweetness front, but high on soft bites of custardy bread with lightly crisp edges.  Sure, I’ve made highly sweetened bread pudding before, but that sweetness seemed awfully fitting in order to offset the decidedly puckery effects of fresh rhubarb.  Though I loved that bread pudding more than I think I could ever be able to fully explain (the self-forming sauce it made was, in a word, magical), I think I have finally come up with another bread pudding that just might have a fighting chance of dethroning the reigning rhubarb champ.

Studded with chunks of pear, streaked with bittersweet chocolate, and only lightly sweetened with a dark brown sugar custard, this is a bread pudding that comforts without overwhelming the senses.  With a snap of pear and a rich hit of chocolate in each bite, you are able to savor each forkful without wondering if you will ever be able to walk again, button your trousers again, survive without supplemental insulin again.  I am not sure how it is possible, but this dessert manages to be somehow both subtle and attention-commanding at the same time.  It’s a rare feat, but surely one you won’t forget or regret.

Pear and Chocolate Bread Pudding

1 French baguette, cut or torn into 1-inch chunks and allowed to become slightly stale, or toasted very lightly to dry them out just a tad (you should have about 5 cups of bread chunks total)

1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½-inch chunks

½ cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate chunks

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups milk

¼ cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly butter a 13” x 8” baking dish and set aside.

In the buttered baking dish, combine the bread chunks, pear chunks, and chopped chocolate.

In a medium pot set over low heat, combine the milk and sugar and whisk together until the sugar has dissolved.  Slowly pour in the beaten eggs, whisking as you pour.  Add the vanilla, pinch of cinnamon, and pinch of salt.  The heat should stay on low, and the mixture should never come close to boiling.

Remove the pot from the heat.  Carefully pour the heated milk mixture over the bread and pear mixture, being sure to coat and soak every piece of bread.  If necessary, lightly press the bread chunks down with the back of a spoon, coaxing the bread into the milk mixture in the bottom of the baking dish.

Tightly cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil, then bake for an additional 10-20 minutes, until the bread is puffed up with golden edges, but the middle of the bread pudding is moist and the custard has been absorbed.

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