Throughout fall and winter, one of my favorite improvisational “base” preparations is Roasted Pears. These are pears that are roasted with a bit of sugar, lemon juice, butter and a split vanilla bean or even herbs, until they become tender and caramelized, with a concentrated pear flavor. Roasted Pears are one of those miraculous recipes that are easy to make and have endless applications, both sweet and savory, a jumping-off-point from which to improvise, with delicious and often surprising results.
You can roast just about any kind of pear from tiny Seckel pears to Comice or Anjou, to interesting varieties found in the farmer’s market, as long as they are slightly firm and fragrant.
Very small pears like Seckel take especially well to savory treatments in part because of how they look: when roasted whole or halved with the stem intact, several can be clustered in a serving. Here are some ways I’ve used them over the years to give an idea of the possibilities:
— as an accompaniment for Thanksgiving turkey instead of cranberry sauce
–alongside pork, quail, chicken, guinea hen, ham, or sausages instead of applesauce or other sweet flavor counterpoints
–as a first course with thinly sliced proscuitto de Parma or serrano ham
–quartered or sliced in a salad of watercress or arugula dressed with an aged sherry vinegar vinaigrette
–as a cheese course with Roquefort, an aged gouda, or sheep’s milk cheese, or mildly aged goat cheeses, along with toasted walnuts
Larger pears like Comice, Bartlett or Anjou, which are fleshier and creamier than Seckel pears, make especially wonderful desserts:
— served warm in a shallow bowl with creme anglaise, whipped cream, creme fraiche or fine vanilla ice cream and/or a plain butter cookie
–arranged in a prebaked pie shell or a phyllo pastry shell; shellac with the syrupy juices and serve with whipped crème fraiche
–for an instant roasted pear sorbet, slice and freeze the roasted pear flesh on a sheet pan and puree in a food processor. Add a drizzle of cold pear eau de vie, or serve alongside.
— coarsely mash or chop roasted pears to use as a “confit” to serve with pork, ham, pates, roasted chicken, or alongside desserts, or lemon-scented pancakes
Recipe: Essential Roasted Pears
Vanilla bean accentuates the pears perfume, but is not essential. You can also tuck sprigs of thyme among the pears.
1/4 to 1//3 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
1 ½ pounds slightly-under-ripe, fragrant medium pears, peeled if desired, and halved
though the stem
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 375′ degrees. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.
Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut-side-up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod among the fruit. Pour the water into the dish. Dot each pear with some butter.
Roast the pears 30 minutes brushing it occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer. (If the pears are small, test for doneness after 35 or 40 minutes of cooking; a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance). Serve warm.