This week's Cook the Book entry, How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons, is all about where the foods in the produce aisle come from, when they're at their best, and how to pick a prime example of whatever it is you're in the market for. Arugula, Pear, and Goat Cheese Salad, one of the recipes that goes along with the chapter on pears follows, but first a couple of pear tips from Parsons.
- Where they're grown: Pear trees need more cold than most other fruit trees, they are susceptible to a wide variety of climatic ills. For this reason, between 90 and 95 percent of the total U.S. crop is grown in California, Washington, and Oregon....
- How to choose: Unlike, say, peaches, the varieties of pears are very different from one another. Bartletts, the most common variety, have a buttery texture and a mild, sweet flavor. Anjous are firmer and spicier. Seckels are tiny, with a rich taste. Boscs have russet skin and a graceful, slender neck; their flavor is mildly spicy. The Comice is the wide-bottomed queen of the pear family, with a heavenly floral fragrance, a buttery, slightly granular texture, and a flavor that is almost winey in its complexity. A pear is perfectly ripe and ready to eat when it is just beginning to soften on the neck, just below the stem. Except for Bartlett pears, pay no attention to the color—it changes only very slightly, if at all, during ripening. A perfectly ripe Comice pear, one of the true glories of the fruit world, will still show plenty of green. Bartletts will go from green to golden. They may look scuffed because of their delicate skin, but pay that no mind.
- How to store: Don't worry if the pears you buy in the grocery store aren't as ripe as you'd like. These are among the best fruits for ripening at home. Just leave them at room temperature until they begin to soften. The process can be speeded up by keeping them in a paper bag to trap the ethylene gas they naturally produce. This also promotes more even ripening. Once they're at the point you like, store them in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag.
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup walnut oil
- 1/4 cup walnut pieces
- 2 ripe but firm pears
- 1/4 pound arugula or watercress, torn into bite-size pieces
- 6 tablespoons soft fresh goat cheese
For the dressing
Combine the shallots, red wine vinegar and salt in a small, tightly covered jar and set aside to steep until almost ready to use. Just before serving the salad, add the walnut oil to the dressing, fasten the lid tightly and shake well to combine.
For the salad
Place the walnut pieces in a small, dry pan over medium heat. Toast, shaking the pan from time to time to keep the nuts from scorching, until slightly darkened and aromatic, about 10 minutes. Chop coarsely and set aside.
Quarter each pear lengthwise and trim the fibrous core from stem to bottom, cutting out the seeds as well. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise and then cut into roughly 1/2-inch crosswise pieces.
Place the arugula in a salad bowl and add the goat cheese in rough tablespoon dollops. Add the pears and walnuts and pour 1/2 cup of the dressing over the top. Mix well but gently, taking care not to smear the goat cheese or break up the pear pieces. Taste and add more dressing, if necessary.
Divide among four chilled plates, being sure each gets an equal amount of cheese, pears and walnuts. Serve.