~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Well, maybe 15 minutes, but those are sacred minutes for eating a pear. Its texture becomes velvety, moist and glistens in the light. And its luscious, heavenly fragrance and flavor are the essence of “pearness.”
Watercress, Endive & Pear Salad w/ Goat Cheese, Shallot-Mustard Vinaigrette & Maple-Glazed Walnuts was on our Thanksgiving menu. All I could find were very unripe pears. I purchased three unripe Bartlett pears on the Saturday before Thanksgiving assuming that at least one or possibly two of them would ripen in the coming five days. On the morning of day three the still green pears went into a sealed paper bag to encourage their ripening.
By the end of day four the color of two of the pears was softening and one was actually turning yellow. The tops, by the stem end which should give slightly to the touch in a ripe pear, were unrelenting.
This still life is the photo I took on Thanksgiving morning—the pears looked promising, though “looking” good isn’t enough for pears.
In anticipation of at least one pear ripening before dinner, I kept them in the sealed bag. All the pears remained hard. In stubbornness, I sliced one anyway. It provided little more than a textural contrast with none of the superb juiciness that is the essence of pear during its 10-15 minutes of perfection.
Wait if you can for a ripe pear, you and your guests will be well rewarded. Consider purchasing unripe pears way in advance. If they do happen to ripen ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator for a day or two.
The rest of the story
It is now day 9 and the last pear still hasn’t ripened. And now I know why. I just read this excellent and informative article When to pick and how to ripen pears to perfection. Oh boy, if only I had read this last weekend—I had forgotten the part about adding a banana or an apple to the bag to hasten ripening.
Watercress, Belgian Endive & Pear Salad with Goat Cheese, Shallot-Mustard Vinaigrette and Maple-Glazed Walnuts
Yield: 4-8 servings
Maple-Glazed Walnuts (recipe below)
Shallot-Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe below)
2 bunches fresh watercress, washed, dried, stems removed
2 large Belgian endive, sliced ¼-inch thick just before you toss the salad
1-2 ripe Bartlett, Bosc or D’Anjou pears, peeled and thinly sliced just before you toss the salad
½ cup crumbled goat cheese (omit the cheese for a vegan salad)
Make sure you purchase your pears well in advance of preparing the salad so that they are ripe when you want them.
Glaze the walnuts and make the vinaigrette. The watercress can be prepared the day before and stored in the refrigerator inside your lettuce spinner or in a plastic bag with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture.
Just before serving the salad, slice the endive and the pear(s). Place the watercress, endive and pear slices in a bowl and toss with enough of the dressing to lightly coat everything. Either place the salad on a platter for buffet service, or divide it between 4-8 plates (depending on whether this salad is the meal or a side-salad). Sprinkle with the walnuts and the goat cheese. You might also want to drizzle a few drops of the dressing on the plate around the salad. 😉
Maple or Honey-Glazed Walnuts
Preheat a small toaster oven to 350 degrees. Lightly toast the walnut halves and pieces in the oven for 4 minutes.
In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the walnuts and stir to coat them with the oil and butter, about 1 minute. Stir in the maple syrup or honey and continue stirring for about 3 minutes to glaze the walnuts. Pour them out onto a parchment paper or silpat lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the walnuts lightly with coarse sea salt. If stored unrefrigerated in an airtight container, the walnuts retain their crunch for at least a month.
Yield: 1¼ cups
¼ cup very thinly sliced shallots
Large pinch salt
1½ tablespoons whole grain, Dijon-style mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons seasoned “lite” rice vinegar
6 tablespoons walnut oil
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dried cranberries, lightly chopped (optional)
4 twists freshly ground pepper or to taste
Very thinly slice the shallots and place them in a small bowl. Sprinkle the shallots with a large pinch of salt and let them sit for about five minutes.
Use a wire whisk to stir in the mustard and the vinegars. Continue to whisk the mixture as you very gradually add each of the oils in a thin stream. Stir in the optional lightly chopped dried cranberries and the freshly ground pepper.
This is more dressing than needed for this salad. However, it is such a tasty dressing, that it is nice to have it on hand for dressing roasted asparagus or beets or other salad greens.