Looking for an elegant appetizer salad this holiday season? This stunning dish has it all: seasonal appeal, unexpected savory twist on poached pears, delicious and make-ahead. It is essentially a whole fragrant and lightly spiced poached pear, cut in thirds horizontally and reconstructed with layers of blue cheese, walnuts, bacon and micro greens. The pears can be poached in advance and the walnuts caramelized as much as a week ahead of time. The salad can be assembled in a few minutes at the time of serving. If you have not tried poaching pears, I hope I can convince you how easy they are. If pressed for time, you can purchase candied walnuts but this was my first attempt at making them myself and they took a mere 5 minutes. Their freshness is incomparable to the commercial version. These have a very light coating of the praline and a wonderful crunch. The nuttiness of the walnuts still shines and is not overpowered by the sugar. The recipe is for 4 pears but there is enough poaching liquid to make 8.
4 large Bosc pears, peeled and cored, stems left on
1 750ml bottle of sparkling cider, white wine or prosecco
peel of 1 orange
peel of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped off, or 1 T vanilla bean paste
1 star anise pod
7 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 c honey
water to top
Method: Peel the ripe but still firm pears, core them from the botttom and sit them upright in a deep but not too wide pot. Make sure to preserve their stems. Cover them with the cider, the spices and honey and add enough water to cover the pears. Bring them to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes. The pears will rise in the liquid a bit. Occasionally, immerse them in the liquid using a wooden spoon, so they cook evenly. Remove from the poaching liquid to cool.
The poaching liquid can be saved for another batch of pears, up to a month in the refrigerator. Filter out the spices and peels if saving. Return 1 cup of the poaching liquid to the pot and bring to a boil and reduce at medium heat, stirring occasionally, until you have about 1/4 cup of syrup. Reserve until ready to assemble the salad.
1 c of walnut halves
1/4 c sugar
1 T butter
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add all the ingredients and stir continuously to coat the walnuts with the praline, about 3-5 minutes. Dump them over parchment paper, making sure they are separated. Cool and reserve. Try not to eat them! They are hard to resist!
You will need 4 slices of crispy cooked bacon to crumble. Fresh ground black pepper. 4 oz crumbled blue cheese. Micro greens. Your poached pears, the candied walnuts and poaching syrup.
Cut each pear in 3, horizontally. Set the bottom segment on a salad plate. Sprinkle with about half the blue cheese, walnuts, bacon and micro greens and a turn of the pepper mill. (I broke the walnut halves in pieces). Place the next segment of the pear on top of the first and repeat. Top with the stemmed segment of the pear. Scatter any left over blue cheese, bacon, walnuts and greens around the pear. Spoon a tablespoon of the reserved syrup over the top of the pear and serve.
Poaching the pears and making the syrup:
Making the candied walnuts:
This may seem like a labor intensive recipe but I assure you it only looks that way. The final creation is a stunning reconstructed pear salad sure to wow your guests. Your own little culinary masterpiece!