This week, I am making the ultimate multitasker: a dish that can be served as lunch, as an appetizer, as a cheese course, or as a dessert. The sweet firmness of the pears, the piquant creaminess of the Roquefort, the earthy crunch of the walnuts, and the sweet stick of the Sauternes syrup make this a dish for all seasons, a perennial trooper you can trot out when you want to feed someone, appear refined, and not lift a finger.
We all know the French are not shy about cheese, and Roquefort is a real ringer. It is a blue sheep's milk cheese from the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Legend has it that a shepherd left his lunch in a cave when he ran after a beautiful girl in the distance (it must be a French legend if it involves stinky cheese and hot romantic pursuit), and when he came back his regular old cheese had majestically transformed with age into Roquefort. As far as blue cheeses go, it is creamier than most with a terrific bite. As far as mold goes, it is the most important discovery after penicillin.
Sauternes is a sweet white French dessert wine. For this recipe I reduce it down with a bit of sugar to make a Sauternes simple syrup, which I then drizzle over the soft and bubbling pears. Because the cheese is so sharp, the sweetness of the fruit and the syrup make the perfect complement. Serve a half of one of these pears on a bed of arugula for lunch, plain for a cheese course, or whole one for an appetizer or dessert. They are complicated and elegant enough to appear luxurious, but all you have to do is stick them in the oven and grin.
The recipe below makes one pear, which I roast in an individual gratin dish. This system allows me to make as many as I desire, and I like the earthy presentation. But you could just as well put the altered amounts into a large roasting dish and it wouldn't be a problem. Just be sure to choose pears that are ripe, but not overly soft. The syrup recipe will cover four pears easily. Garnish them with bouquets of thyme, and the rustic charm of sylvan French folklore will enchant you from your plate.
A Note on Some Ingredients
I used Bosc pears for this recipe, but feel free to substitute with Bartlett, or Williams, pears. Again, you don't want to choose a hard pear, but you don't want one that is verging on over-ripeness either. Ripe pears can be elusive, but do choose ones to bake that you would eat raw.
Roquefort is my preferred cheese for this dish, but in its absence, Stilton would be a lovely substitute. In a pinch, Gorgonzola would provide a nice twist.
Sauternes, like many dessert wines, can be pricey. For this use, don't bother with the most expensive bottle in the shop. Buy a small, modestly-priced bottle—you can enjoy it with the pears, and after as a digestif.
To toast nuts, like the walnuts in this recipe, preheat your oven to 325°F. Scatter the nuts in a single layer on a small baking sheet, and toast for about 10 minutes, but you'll want to check on them every so often after 5 minutes. You'll begin to smell their distinct scent wafting from the oven when they're ready. You could also do them in a small pan on the stove over moderately low heat, tossing every now and again, but I find the oven gives a more thorough toast. When they're done they'll smell nutty, for lack of a better word, and have golden blush.
- Yield:1 pear; 1/2 cup of syrup, enough for 4 pears
- 1 Bosc pear, ripe, but not overly soft, halved and hulled with a melon baller
- 1/2 teaspoon light olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 ounces Roquefort
- 1 tablespoon chopped toasted walnuts
- 1-2 tablespoons Sauterne
- Thyme, for garnish (optional)
- Sauternes Syrup
- 1/2 cup Sauterne
- 1/4 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Prepare the pear by slicing it in half and then removing the core with a melon baller. Rub with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Nestle the pear halves in an individual gratin dish.
Make the filling by combining the Roquefort with the walnuts. Mound into the cavities of the pear halves. Pour 1 or 2 tablespoons of Sauternes in the bottom of the gratin dish.
Bake for 35 minutes, until the pear halves are soft, and the cheese bubbly.
Meanwhile, make the Sauternes syrup by bringing the Sauternes and sugar to a boil. Whisk until the mixture is clear—all the sugar will have dissolved. The process does not take very long at all. Set aside to cool while the pears are cooking. When the pears are ready, simply drizzle with syrup and serve.