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.
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.
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.
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.
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!