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GOOD COOKING

Seasonal Cooking : Pear Pairing

September 30, 1993|ABBY MANDEL

With more than 5,000 varieties of pears grown throughout the world, it's not surprising that we can find some type any time of year. In California, the most common pear is the Bartlett--available fresh from late summer through the fall and from controlled-atmosphere storage the rest of the year.

Other pears are available only in fall and winter--Bosc, Anjou and Comice. These pears range in size from large to small, in shape from spherical to bell-shaped and in color from various shades of green to golden-yellow to tawny red.

Pears are among the rare fruits that ripen off the tree. That makes them easier to ship, since they're picked while still hard.

Choose pears that are fragrant, solid and free of soft spots. Store them in paper bags at room temperature until they are less solid but far from soft. Refrigerate pears once they are ripe. In those recipes where the final texture of the pear is key, be sure to choose fruit that is still very firm. Save soft, juicy pears for eating out of hand or for a cooked-down pear sauce, perhaps mixed with some apples.

Because pears are sweet and rather mild--almost bland tasting, they work well with strong flavors. One of the simplest ways to savor a perfectly ripened pear is pairing it with a robust cheese such as blue or Roquefort, toasted walnut halves and a glass of Port wine. It's a perfect conclusion to a meal.

This salad of mixed greens with pears, blue cheese and pine nuts is a variation on that theme; it's light and refreshing with a honey-mustard dressing accented with shallots and pepper.

The fresh gingerbread cakes with diced pears are moist and finely textured; they can work as a rather sweet muffin at brunch, as a bread with fruit salads or as a less-sweet dessert. Fresh ginger enhances the sweetness of pears.

The pear and apple crisp with raspberries combines these fruits so that each retains a distinctive identity. Served warm with a dollop of rich vanilla ice cream, it couldn't be more appealing.

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Here, pears are peeled, diced and tossed in a little of the honey-mustard dressing, which enhances their flavor and keeps them white. The mixed greens are best tender and young; they should include some bitter leaves such as curly endive or arugula, which balance the flavors of the sweet pears and pungent cheese.

MIXED GREENS WITH PEARS, BLUE CHEESE AND PINE NUTS

2 large ripe firm pears, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice Dressing 12 cups torn mixed greens, including red leaf, Boston, curly endive and arugula, rinsed,crisped and chilled Salt Freshly ground pepper 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Toss diced pears with scant 1/4 cup Dressing. Can be done 2 hours ahead and refrigerated.

To serve, put greens into large shallow bowl. Toss with remaining Dressing. Divide among 6 chilled serving plates. Sprinkle lightly to taste with salt and pepper. Scatter pears over greens, dividing evenly. Garnish with crumbled cheese, then pine nuts, again dividing both evenly. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

148 calories; 183 mg sodium; 26 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 1.08 grams fiber.

Note : To toast pine nuts, spread in single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until light-brown and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Do not let burn.

Dressing

1 large shallot, minced 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons honey 1/2 cup safflower oil 1 tablespoon water 1/8 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper

Put shallot, mustard, vinegar, honey, oil, water, salt and pepper in small jar. Close securely. Shake vigorously to mix. Can be made day ahead and refrigerated. Use chilled. Shake well before using.

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These gingerbread cakes can be substituted for a sweet muffin or a less sweet dessert. For a more elegant presentation, bake the cakes in individual souffle dishes and serve warm with a small dollop of rich vanilla ice cream.

FRESH GINGERBREAD CAKES WITH DICED PEARS

1 (3/4-inch) cube ginger root, peeled and minced 1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed 2 large egg whites 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 3 tablespoons molasses 3 tablespoons light corn syrup 1 1/2 cups cake flour 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 large firm pear, cored, peeled if desired and cut into 1/3-inch dice Powdered sugar

Use whisk or mixer to mix ginger, sugar, egg whites (save egg yolks for another use), butter, molasses and corn syrup in bowl until smooth and flowing. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Spoon pears on top of dry ingredients. Use rubber spatula to fold in until combined.

Spoon batter into 10 medium muffin cups greased or lined with paper liners. Bake at 350 degrees until wood pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Let cool in pans 5 minutes. Can be made day ahead and kept at room temperature or frozen up to 3 months.

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