Monday, December 20, 2010

Maple-Pear Salad: A Confession

I don't consider myself a foodie.

My roommates find this utterly preposterous, but it's true, I don't. I definitely love to prepare food, and the more extravagant the experimentation, the more fun it is. But I have no insight on how to make flavours fit another in innovative ways. My expertise lies in finding interesting recipes and following their instructions. I could never assemble anything from scratch. Originality is not my forte.

What am I getting to? Neen said it once, and I will repeat it: salads intimidate me.

I don't know why, but I suspect it's because I can't fall back on a reliable recipe to tell me what to do. I guess I could always toss a bunch of rabbit food together with a vinaigrette. But that's not particularly fun.

That's why I was so excited when my father started talking about this salad that he discovered in a holiday cooking issue of Cook's Illustrated. Well, to be perfectly honest, he was complaining about it. The basic idea was that you toss the pears in maple syrup before you roast them to get a sweet, slightly burnt exterior. The problem with that is that you're liable to smoke yourself out of the house. Even if you don't, you'll probably have to chip the burnt syrup off the baking sheet with a hammer and chisel.

We debated the best way to join roasted pears and maple syrup; ultimately, we decided to roast the pears first, and then apply a light coat of syrup to each slice with a pastry brush. I can't compare it to the original recipe, but I can speak to the goodness of this approach. You don't get a crusty exterior on the pears (which is just as well, really), but you can definitely taste the maple syrup on the pear. The blend of such sweetness with blue cheese and walnuts -- ah! Délicieux!

I'm fully aware that this isn't actually going to make me better at creating new foods. But it's certainly going into my répetoire of dishes. And next time I make a big dinner, I can present this funky, funky salad.

Maple-Pear Salad
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 3 firm pears, preferably Anjou or Bartlett
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 bunches watercress, thick stems removed (8 cups)
  • 1 head Bibb lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces (6 cups)
  • 1 cup crumbled blue cheese
Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil and place it in the lower-middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

Peel and quarter the pears lengthwise. Core the pears, then halve each quarter lengthwise. Whisk the syrup and ginger together in a bowl.

Original: Toss the pears with 3 Tbs of the syrup mixture and spread them on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, and then roast until they are browned on the bottom (about 15min). Flip the slices and roast for an additional 5min, or until they are tender and deep golden brown.

-- OR --

Alternative: Arrange the slices on the baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and roast for 15min. Remove from the oven, brush the syrup mixture over the slices, and return to the oven (having flipped the pear slices first). Roast for an addition 5min, and remove.

While the pears are cooling on a baking sheet, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, oil, salt, and pepper to taste into the remaining syrup mixture. Combine the watercress and lettuce in your serving bowl, tossing with the vinaigrette. Scatter the pears and blue cheese and serve.

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