Caramelized Pear Salad with Gorgonzola, Candied Spiced Walnuts & Spicy Orange Vinaigrette

Caramelized Pear Salad with Gorgonzola, Candied Spiced Walnuts & Spicy Orange Vinaigrette

Pears have a flavor affinity with creamy blue cheeses, such as Cambozola, Gorgonzola, Stilton, and Roquefort, as well as with balsamic vinegar, red wine, oranges, toasted walnuts, and the caramelization technique. I’m exploring these marvelous affinities this fall as new-season local pears fill the farmers markets.

Orange Marmalade for Carmelized Pear Salad

If you are interested likewise in exploring the wide range of possible flavor affinities with pears as the star, I highly recommend The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I use the lists in this book constantly to push myself into new directions.

New Crop Northwest Bartlet Pears

Take this salad for instance. Orange may not have been a flavor direction I would have taken with the pears had I not noted it in The Flavor Bible. Oranges got me thinking about Southwest cuisine and then, voila! jalapeno chiles were added to the vinaigrette.

What is interesting here is that even though pears are mild in flavor, they can hold their own with more assertive flavors, especially when they are caramelized. In this salad, they provide a lovely contrast in flavor and texture. The creamy aspect of the cheese acts to bind all of the flavors together into a harmonious whole.

Caramelizing New Crop Northwest Bartlet Pears

For those of you who are not fond of blue cheese (aka MauiJim), fresh goat cheese will also work nicely here, as will the mildly flavored cheese panna cotta featured in Prawn & Strawberry Salad with Fresh Herb Panna Cotta (without the herbs).

Close Up of Carmelized Pear Salad with Gorgonzola and Candied Spiced Walnuts

Caramelized Pear Salad with Gorgonzola, Candied Spiced Walnuts & Spicy Orange Vinaigrette

Here is a flavor combination made in heaven: caramelized pears, creamy blue cheese, candied walnuts, oranges, chile, and balsamic vinegar.

This salad can certainly be a first course, as its light and refreshing, and awakens the palate. On the other hand, because it has several components and over-the-top flavor appeal, we almost always have it as a dinner salad. In the latter case, just add a warm loaf of freshly baked crusty bread.

Spicy Orange Vinaigrette
¼ small sweet onion, such as Walla Walla Sweet onion or Vidalia onion
1 small jalapeno chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, and deribbed (use disposable gloves)
zest of 1 large orange
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon best quality orange marmalade or undiluted frozen orange juice
6 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
12 tablespoons cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 large, firm, not quite ripe Bartlett pear, stemmed, peeled, cut lengthwise into eight pieces, and cored
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon light olive oil

2 large handfuls of baby salad greens
1 large navel orange, peeled, outside membrane removed, each section removed from interior membrane
¼-½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola
¼-½ cup
Candied Spiced Walnuts

  1. To make the vinaigrette, in a blender or processor, puree the onion, chile pepper, orange zest, garlic, and orange marmalade. Add the vinegar, olive oil, and salt, and blend to emulsify. Taste and balance sweetness (add a pinch of sugar or more marmalade), acidity (add a few more drops of vinegar), and salt. Pour vinaigrette into a squeeze bottle, cap, and refrigerate. Vinaigrette can be made a day ahead.
  2.  To make the salad, in a medium bowl, toss the pear slices with the sugar, coating all surfaces of the pear slices evenly.
  3.  In a medium sauté pan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil.
  4. Add the sugar coated pear slices and sauté slowly to cook the pears through at the same time that at least 2 sides of the slices are browned and caramelized. Turn the pear slices as each side browns. When the pears are done, remove from the sauté pan immediate and arrange around the edges of 2 or 4 large salad plates.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, toss the salad greens with enough of the vinaigrette to coat each leaf. You will likely have vinaigrette left over for a couple more salads later.
  6. Arrange the dressed salad greens in the middle of the salad plates and tuck in several pieces of orange.
  7. Finish the salads by drizzling a little of the vinaigrette over the pears and topping the salad greens with Candied Spiced Walnuts, crumbled gorgonzola, and freshly ground black pepper.

Makes 2 dinner-size or 4 starter-size salads.


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  1. aimee says

    FYI-This is the very first blog I have ever visited and I even posted a question! Just exploring your blog and love it…seems we both love complex, layered flavors in our cooking!! Having a halloween dinner party tomorrow night and am going to make this salad using although I will be using a white balsamic dressing?? Decided to caramelize the pears! Thanks, Aimee

  2. aimee says

    I was wondering if there is a benefit to carmelizing the pears even though I won’t serve the salad for a few hours after making???

    • sms bradley says

      Aimee, actually sauteed, caramelized (or poached) pears will hold their color better than raw pears. So in the latter instance, you will still want to peel and cut the pears just before serving. The caramel note is is quite important to the composition of this dish, but of course you will have a wonderful salad with raw pears too. Hope this helps.

    • sms bradley says

      Nate, of course, give it a try, and see what you think. The marmalade was used to create a tie-in with the fresh oranges.

    • sms bradley says

      My favorite blue cheese? I love them all. :-) I explore the locally crafted cheeses of whatever region I happen to be in. Rogue River Creamery makes some wonderful cheeses. I almost always have a couple in the frig. On the other hand, many cheeses travel well, so I don’t restrict myself to local cheeses only. In creating this salad, I actually tried it with a couple of Rogue River Creamery blue cheeses, and the effect was too sharp to my palate. The bite of the cheese overwhelmed the more subtle flavor of the pears. Then I tried the salad with an American Gorgonzola and the combination was perfect. The Gorgonzola, although full flavored, had a rich, creamy quality, which in this instance was a better match. So really, for me, it’s about the perfect partnership between the various components in the dish.

  3. says

    Oh my heavens, this recipe sounds astounding Susan. And those images, definitely worth every bit of effort!!! I can hardly control myself from wanting to jump my screen. I absolutely adore the notion of gobbling this salad warm with a “crusty loaf of bread.” Thanks for sharing…

    New look???
    .-= Louise´s last blog ..Nibbling my way to Count Dracula’s Castle =-.

    • sms bradley says

      Thanks so much, Louise! Now you’re making me hungry. :-) All the time I was eating that salad I was thinking, wow this is amazing and low calorie too. We are really into salads this fall in the OtherWorldly Kitchen. Yes, new look for LunaCafe! The home page was loading so slowly with all those pictures that James (MauiJim) redesigned the site. He still has to fix all the pages that went wonky in the process but I like the new design. Hope you do too.

  4. says

    What a lovely & divine salad!! I sometimes use plums jam in my recipes or other jams,..

    .-= Sophie´s last blog ..Sophie’s cranberry, pecan & oats spelt cookies =-.

    • sms bradley says

      Thank you, Sophie! Yes, jam, which is essentially an intense reduction of a fruit or vegetable with some sugar added, is a great addition to a vinaigrette and to many other sauces as well. I just spent 40 minutes reducing a quart of fresh orange juice to 1/2 cup for a new pumpkin bread I’m working on today and then I thought, “Why didn’t I just use marmalade?” :-)

    • sms bradley says

      Thanks so much, Jenna! :-) The local QFC just had that line of jams on sale and I bought several different ones. I love the raspberry!

    • sms bradley says

      Oh thank you, Deeba! :-) That platter came from Pier One and was so reasonably priced I could hardly believe it. It’s actually a large dinner plate. I only bought 2 but think I better run back and get 2 more. The color is so fun to work with.

  5. sms bradley says

    Thanks so much! :-) The photo shoot is the most stressful part of each post for me. However, we just splurged and got a professional lighting system, which is making it a lot easier to get good shots inside with not much natural light. James (MauiJim) takes most of the inside still shots, with me doing the styling. I use a handheld digital camera and move around the setup to determine the best angle. Then James sets up his tripod and stationary camera for the final shots. We both love shooting outdoors at the farmers markets. We’ve been photographing together since our college days and photog classes at Central Washington University. All those 5 A.M. mornings tromping through fields looking for old barns. We never suspected we’d be photographing food one day. :-)


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