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.
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.
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.
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).
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
- 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.
- To make the salad, in a medium bowl, toss the pear slices with the sugar, coating all surfaces of the pear slices evenly.
- In a medium sauté pan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil.
- 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.
- 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.
- Arrange the dressed salad greens in the middle of the salad plates and tuck in several pieces of orange.
- 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.