Pears and Walnuts: The Perfect Pair
Post by Paula Jahn, Co-owner, Registered Dietitian
This dish is embedded in my family history. The origin of my love of pears is no surprise. My grandfather on my mother’s side was the manager of the Scotts Valley Fruit Exchange, a pear packing shed in Lakeport, CA. Both of my parents worked summer jobs “in the pears,” where they fell in love as 16 year olds. Even my brother was drawn back to the pear sheds as a summer job during college. Late summer in my childhood home was defined by boxes of Bartletts at various stages of ripeness. I remember rummaging through the boxes to find the perfectly soft, yellow, fragrant pear. Pears are one of my favorite fruits, and my obsession extends to the aesthetic, as well.
Walnuts also have meaning in my family. My grandfather on my father’s side had a black walnut orchard. Every October, my family would gather the green-husked nuts from the ground, staining hands and knees black with the juice. After two weeks of drying, the walnuts are ready to be cracked open with a hammer and used for the year(s) to come. The walnuts pictured in the recipe below are from my parents’ small crop in Northern California.
This dessert is perfectly light and elegant. After a long weekend of feasting on leftover pie and cookies, this feels healthy and refreshing, yet warm, comforting and seasonal. This dish warms my dietitian’s heart: it lets the whole foods speak for themselves while being low in added sugar and high in fiber and healthy fats.
It is best to choose pears that are firm when ripe, such as Bosc pears. Peel the pears so they are easily infused with the essence of vanilla bean and orange. The red wine tints the pears a vibrant magenta.
After about 30 minutes in the oven, the pears are soft and the walnuts are poached. The walnut and mascarpone cheese topping elevates this dessert from impressive to downright fancy. The topping is decadent and rich without being heavy.
BAKED PEARS WITH WINE AND WALNUT CREAM
(Adapted from Jamie Oliver)
1 vanilla pod
4 firm pears, peeled, such as D’Anjou or Bosc
1/4 cup sucanat or other dark sugar
2 large glasses wine
6 oz (~1 1/2 cups) peeled walnuts
8 oz mascarpone
1-2 Tbs evaporated cane juice or other sweetener, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF. S
- Score down the length of the vanilla pod and remove the seeds by scraping a knife down the inside of each half. Put the pears into a tight-fitting ovenproof pot or pan, add the ¼ cup of sugar, wine, vanilla pod and seeds, and the peel and juice of 1 orange and bring to the boil. Sprinkle over half the walnuts and then put in the oven to bake. Every so often, baste the pears with the syrup they are cooking in, as this will give them a nice glaze.
- Cook for around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the ripeness, until the pears are tender but still holding their shape. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you roast the remaining walnuts on a baking tray in the oven for 5 minutes – make sure you keep an eye on them as they can quickly go from golden to black and you don’t want burnt walnuts.
- Remove the vanilla pod from the syrup. When the walnuts are done, either whirl them in a food processor or bash them up with a pestle and mortar until you have a paste. Whip up the mascarpone with the walnut paste, the zest and juice of the other orange and enough sugar to sweeten, and serve this cream with the baked pears, the nuts, some orange peel and some of the cooking syrup.