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In Season Salad

So apparently THE Ina Garten was in DC this week. I must have missed her invite for lunch this week 😀 hahaha. One can dream. I’m not sure what she was up to as she used to live in the area before she bought the Barefoot Contessa, so maybe she was visiting for old times’ sake or maybe she was here for her show. DC could be on the map on her next season of Barefoot Contessa! That’s exciting!  DC is really becoming a foodie paradise and is very up-and-coming with new restaurants, stores and bars popping up all over the place. One thing I love about DC is the weekly Farmer’s Market that they hold at City Center every Tuesday. This allows me to get out and see what seasonal items are available from local stores and farms mid-week so that I can pick up something to make versus having to plan it on the weekend.

All the pears

All the pears

Today I stopped by at lunch and noticed tons of pears. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it is also mentioned in Back to Basics and is stated by Ina many, many times in her shows. In season fruits and veggies are always the best. Sure you can get them from a store any time of year and they are good, but they are REALLY good when they are from a local farm when the season is ripe. When I saw this plethora of semi-ripe pears available, I knew that I’d have to find a recipe to utilize them. Luckily, in Back to Basics, Ina included a recipe that takes a simple pear and turns it over the top into a simple, arguably elegant and extremely delicious lunch or dinner.

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I feel like pear, blue cheese, walnuts, and dried cranberry salads are a staple at many restaurants. In fact, I feel like it is a very British thing – possibly because of the blue cheese? Don’t get me wrong, the flavors are delicious, but this is not your typical salad. The pears are halved and hulled and filled with a mixture of dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese. When I was shopping around for blue cheese, I spotted some Roquefort from France at the store and though I’ve never had it, I knew I had to try it. It’s definitely better than any other blue cheese I’ve had. It still had the signature pungency that is well known throughout the blue cheese family. However this had a more fresh and sharp flavor, similar to cheddar to me. Note: If you can’t stand blue cheese, you could easily sub it out for some diced sharp white cheddar cheese. It’s more to balance out the sweet from the pear and cranberries.

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Once filled, the pears are basted with a syrup made of apple cider, port and brown sugar. I’m using a port that I got from a local Virginia Winery, Barrel Oak. This port is aged in whiskey barrels so it has an extra depth of flavor. Also, if you’re wondering how to open a wine bottle with a wax coating, it’s extremely simple. Just open it like you would a normal wine bottle and the cork will pop right through the wax coating. It does make a little bit of a mess though.

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While baking, I basted the pears with the liquid a few times to make sure they absorbed all the delicious flavor from the port and apple cider. Once finished and cooled, don’t throw away that basting syrup in the bottom of the pan. It gets used for the dressing of the salad, which is just some simple arugula. This is probably my favorite part of the salad. A mixture of the port basting liquid, lemon juice and olive oil with some salt and pepper is FANTASTIC on basically any salad. In fact, I used it all week for lunches at work.

I highly recommend this salad and play around with the ingredients. You could use apples instead of pears, any kind of dried fruit for the cranberries, cheddar or even gouda for the blue cheese, and if you don’t have port or wish to not use it, use all apple cider. I think that food and recipes should be easy and stress-free and I certainly don’t believe in making a special trip to a wine store to get a whole bottle of port if you know that you’ll never use it again. Cook to taste and personal preference and don’t be afraid to deviate from the recipes a little.

I hope you all enjoy and have a great week!

Print Recipe
Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese
From Back to Basics, by Ina Garten, page 96
Course Lunch
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Lunch
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat Oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Peel the pears (or not if you wish to leave the skins on like I did) and slice them lengthwise into halves. With a small knife or melon baller, remove the core and seeds from each pear, leaving a round well for the filling. Trim a small slice away from the founded sides of each pear half so that they will sit in the baking dish without wobbling. Toss the pears with some lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Arrange them, well side up, in a baking dish.
  3. Gently toss the crumbled blue cheese, dried cranberries, and walnuts together in a small bowl. Divide the mixture among the pears, mounding it in the well.
  4. In the same bowl, combine the apple cider, port, and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over and around the pears. Bake, basting occasionally with the cider mixture, for 30 minutes, or until tender. Set aside for about 30 minutes until warm or room temp.
  5. Just before serving, whisk together the olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of the basting liquid into a bowl with some salt and pepper to taste. Toss with the arugula and divide among 6 plates and top each with a pear half. Drizzle each pear with some of the basting liquid and serve.
Recipe Notes

You can honestly swap out the cheese in this recipe with some sharp cheddar or leave it out. I also tried this recipe with some apples instead of pears and it works perfectly!

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Farmer’s Market Find

September is in full swing and it is time for the fall fruit to being showing up the local farmer’s market. This past weekend I stumbled upon some Italian prune plums which are the variety that are dried to make the prunes that you purchase at the store (hence the name).

Beautiful Italian Prune Plums from the local Farmer's Market

Beautiful Italian Prune Plums from the local Farmer’s Market

This particular variety is only available for a very short period in early September and as soon as I found them I knew I had to make Ina Garten’s Plum Crunch recipe. One of her core tenants is to use in season fruits and veggies. This is when they have the most flavor and often times, are most affordable since they are so abundant.

I decided to stock up on extras and freeze some for later. If you want to do the same, there are several steps you should follow:

  1. Wash and dry them thoroughly and prep them while you’re at it. I sliced these in half and removed the pit from the middle.
  2. Lay them out in a single layer on a tray or plate to freeze them for about 4-5 hours. Freezing them this way first ensures that won’t stick together later on. Do this step no matter what kind of fruit your are freezing – it really does work.
  3. Place them in an air tight container or zip-top bag and place in the freezer for storage. They will stay good for months and you can have Italian plums in the middle of winter!

Since I was basically making this for myself, I decided to use a small ramekin to bake it in which held about 10 ounces of plums (about 6). I cut the crisp part into fourths, and froze  what I didn’t use so I can make another one later on with the frozen plums from above.

Sliced Plums

Ina is all about adding ingredients to bring out the flavor of the main ingredient(s) in a dish. In this recipe, she recommends creme de cassis which is a black currant liqueur. I’m sure it does add great flavor to the dish but I’m not about to go out and buy a whole bottle of liqueur just to utilize in one recipe – albeit that Ina does recommend that you can mix the liqueur with white wine or champagne to make kir or kir royale (sounds super fancy – right?). However, I just used lemon juice with a tiny bit of vanilla. The acidity from the lemon will bring out the flavor of the plums just fine and also mix with the flour and sugar to create the “goo” that is a staple for any good crisp recipe. I also added my own twist to this by adding cinnamon to the topping. Just about a quarter of a teaspoon adds a little warmth and it totally appropriate for the start of fall.

Pre-bake!

Pre-bake!

Lastly, just something to keep in mind – when baking or even cooking using fruit, try to choose fruit that are not quite ripe yet. If the fruit is overripe, it will turn to mush when cooked whereas when under ripe, it will soften and still hold its shape.

P.S. – I don’t think anyone would mind if you served this with some ice cream… 🙂

Plum Crunch with Ice cream

Enjoy!

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Print Recipe
B2B #9: Plum Crunch
A new take on a crisp using seasonal Italian Prune Plums. From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 205
Servings
people
Ingredients
Filling
Topping
Servings
people
Ingredients
Filling
Topping
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. For the fruit - in a large bowl, combine the plums, brown sugar, flour and cassis (or lemon juice and vanilla). Pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish, pie plate, or individual ramekins.
  3. For the topping - combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, walnuts, cinnamon, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the plum mixture.
  4. Bake the plum crunch for 40 to 45 minutes. I recommend that you place the dish on a baking sheet with either foil or parchment paper because it will bake over and will catch the drippings. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream.
Recipe Notes

Plums not your thing? You can use peaches that are in season - just make sure they are under ripe so they don't cook to mush.

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