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May this find you taking a little break, gathering your sanity. As the days are short, but the air brilliantly clear, we have entered the reflective though busy time between the Winter Solstice and the end of the year. Perhaps your holiday celebrations have filled your dance card a bit too full, yet you still need to take time for a few meals quietly at home or with unexpected visitors from out of town. You orderly life may be tossed about a bit. Maybe in addition to all the sweets that show up your doorstep at this time of year, you receive unexpected and unplanned-for basket or crate of fruit. Your refrigerator is full of small bits and pieces between scheduled holiday meal making, and you would prefer to waste not.

I am busy trying to creatively appreciate the variety of bits and pieces we saved up from cooking and entertainment frenzies, holiday travels and events. I faced a very ripe selection of beautiful pears and did not want to see a single one go to waste, but I also am someone who often would rather eat an unripe pear or apple before tasting one too sweet and soft. One thing I do know, from my very first experience making ice cream or sorbet, is that . . . for this job, you do want the buttery, slippery texture of a ripe pear. I also had a plot in mind: my favorite examples of pear sorbet were served in a pool of poire.

While preparing this box of pears for a trip through my little ice cream maker later this evening, I remember sitting on a wall, in the hilltop village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, eating a poached pear in a pool of chilled poire, or being served a perfectly formed pear made of sorbet then topped with a slice of the top of a fresh pear and stem, again surrounded by  a pool of poire, served at Auberge de la Bartavelle in Goult. Both of these were tastes from our first visit to Provence, and take us back to that experience, especially the crisp evenings of approaching winter.

Since I had a pound more prepared pears than I needed for the sorbet, I made pear butter. I put the remainder of the peeled, ripe fruit, into a second pan along with sliced ginger, more vanilla bean and some candied orange and Buddha’s hand citron peel to sweeten the batch, and a splash of lemon juice. This I simmered down until it was cooked thru and starting to fall apart, then I mashed it and reduced it further, about 20 minutes cooking time. It made the perfect accompaniment to dab on a little appetizer of pâté and radishes.

When life brings you unexpected fruit, make something you love.

banh mi bites

country style Pâté (smooth or coarse texture)
mayonnaise or sriracha Mayo
pickled peppers, cornichons, jalapeno slices or pickled carrots, sliced or julienned
apple or pear butter (prepared as above)
sea salt flakes (I like to use Malrdon sea salt for finishing)
baguette slices (day old is just perfect)

Slice the baguette thinly (1/4 to 3/8” slices are good for this). If you prefer a crunchy base, you could bake the slices but I prefer the fresher texture with this topping and it is less likely to break when someone picks them up with their fingers.

Slice radishes as thinly as possible, and if they are very hot, toss in a small bowl with a sprinkling of salt and sugar if you wish, and set aside. They only need a few minutes to mellow.  If you are lucky to find brilliantly coloured large watermelon radishes, so much the better.

Spread the slice of baguette with a thin layer of mayonnaise, top with a thin slice of pate and then garnish with the radishes, a dab of pear butter and a bit of pepper or jalapeno. sprinkle with Maldon sea salt.

Serve immediately


Pear Sorbet
adapted from Bon Appétit,  Winter Sorbet Sampler, 1994.

2 1/4 pounds ripe pears, peeled, quartered, cored (1020g)
1.5 cups late harvest white dessert wine (I used a late harvest Chardonnay)
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise in half, seeds scraped
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

serve with Poire William or your favourite Pear eau de vie

Combine pears and 1 cup wine in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Scrape the vanilla bean into the pear mixture and add the bean as well. and Cover and cook until pears are tender, about 8 minutes. Remove the spent vanilla bean.

Puree pear mixture in food processor or with an immersion blender. Mix in the remaining 1/2 cup wine and corn syrup. Allow it to come to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator until thoroughly cold (2 hours or overnight)

Process each mixture separately in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze in covered containers. (Can be made 1 week ahead.)

note: If you use a dry wine (not late harvest or dessert), you will want to add about a half cup of superfine sugar with the last 1/2 cup of the wine and corn syrup and stir until dissolved before chilling.

Serve scoops in a bowl, then gently pour 1 ounce of poire around the base of the scoop.

Sorbet also makes a nice palate cleanser between courses, and you can scoop it ahead of dinner, putting a small scoop in a small shot glass and store them in the freezer.

Note that Poire eau de vie is NOT the same as a Poire liqueur which would be much sweeter.

Reflecting on this evening with twinkly lights and cold air, life is sweet.