This is the fifty-eighth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!
The word “pear” occasionally slips past our tongues in December when we hum the infamous Twelve Days of Christmas refrain, imagining the gifted partridge in company. Yet other than in tune, pears rarely draw near our taste buds in the modern holiday season. Perhaps it is a consequence of the winter fruit paradox—the nudge of fruit to the periphery of our minds as the North begins to frost over. However, despite our neglect of pears, they are the national fruit of December, with the day of the pear fast-approaching on the 8th.
Dating back to 5000 B.C., the antiquity of pears remembers praise by Homer as the “gift of the Gods.” Now, the historically-popular fruit rarely appears in anecdotes of public appreciation despite the prolific pear orchards in the temperate North West, United States. As agricultural production expanded in the U.S., finicky pears failed to grow in the New England climate, only later to find success in their cultivation in Oregon and Washington. Although, posing pears to their opposition—apples—indicates that their dissipation from popularity is, more so, a reflection of our demanding consumer culture. Pears require an additional one to two months after being picked to ripen before being eaten. Compared to the readily available apples that overwhelm the produce aisles this time of year, the pears’ lack of casting in leading roles in pies and other seasonal dishes is somewhat predictable.
However, though we may overlook pears today, they continue being a Christmas favorite. Since the 1800s, pears have been a treasured part of Christmas celebrations, admired for their elegance, versatility, buttery texture, and sweet taste as an adored present under the tree. Though we have shifted away from receiving and gifting fruit in stockings, the nostalgia of pears in the holiday season evokes a personal desire to recreate some recipe favorites that adorn this winter fruit as the centerpiece. Several pie recipes and other dessert dishes utilize the flavor of pears to perfection. However, I decided to showcase a recipe for a honey-roasted pear salad. This dish fosters sentimentality coupled with modern festivity that guarantees to please our quarantine-sized crowds for this holiday season.
Makes 4 servings
Honey Roasted Pears
- 2 ripe but firm Bartlett pears
- 2 bunches fresh thyme
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 medium-sized bag (about 7 oz) of arugula
- ¼ cup toasted walnuts
- ½ cup of crumbled goat cheese
- 1 pomegranate
- ¼ cup champagne vinegar
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot finely diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
To prepare the pears, first, preheat the oven to 400 °F. On a cutting board, halve and core the two unpeeled pears. Then, place the pears cut-side down and put your knife at their stems. While keeping the pear uncut at the top, thinly slice into quarter-inch long sections to the bottom of the fruit. On a baking sheet, scatter the thyme sprigs, placing the pears on top while gently expanding the overlapping slices out while they remain attached at their stems. This fanning technique takes its name from its comparative structure to old-fashioned hand fans, seemingly adding an elegant display to your salad. However, you can easily replace this step by completely slicing the pears and removing their stems with no effect on the fruit’s rich flavor. Next, lightly drizzle the four pear halves with honey and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake the pears for 15 minutes, or until they are tender. Let the pears cool for 30 minutes.
The walnuts function as an additional garnish to your salad, complementing the flavor of the pears while simultaneously preserving the holiday theme. Place the walnuts in a skillet over medium heat, sporadically moving them around to avoid burning, and toast until lightly brown and aromatic. Allow the walnuts to cool in a small bowl.
With your palm, roll the pomegranate on the cutting board to loosen the seeds. Then, slice the fruit in half, remove the seeds, and set aside. The pomegranate seeds, a bit tart, balance the sweetness of the pear and honey while brightening your salad with a festive touch of red.
To make the dressing, whisk the champagne vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, shallots, and fresh thyme together in a small mixing bowl. Place the arugula in a large bowl and add the dressing. Be sure to toss and coat evenly.
Finally, divide salad onto plates, placing the pear halves on top while garnishing lightly with goat cheese, toasted walnuts, and pomegranate seeds to taste. Enjoy!