This recipe came out of my public dinner at the Natural Gourmet Institute a couple of weeks ago. For the occasion, I proposed a 3-course menu featuring recipes from my cookbook. For the last course, I chose the Pear Kanten — a palate cleansing dessert of Japanese origin. The kanten has a texture similar to jello, and is made from pear juice and the seaweed agar agar. I got the menu back with the comment, “The dessert needs a fat element.”
They had a point. After all, the Institute is where I learned one of my key cooking rules, “Fat carries flavor.” I decided on a purée of pears, cashews, and coconut oil to be layered with the kanten in parfait glasses. NGI’s public dinners are vegan, so I tailored the recipe to meet those guidelines. The purée was a hit. In the kitchen, the students and I agreed that the rich mousse was close to perfection, trying several samples just to be sure. After the dinner, I wanted to make the dish again without the tropical ingredients. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable, Miracle, about the year she and her family spent eating only food grown by themselves or neighbors. I already favor seasonal cooking, but the book has given me a new appreciation for the hard work that small farmers do in order to grow our food. With my locavore mind, I swapped the coconut oil for local butter, chose New York State maple syrup as the sweetener, and lost the cashews.
With shopping list in hand, I set out in yesterday’s snowstorm, and went to a certain national store that has become ubiquitous when discussing natural foods. I was happy to buy my lemons and vanilla there, but when I saw that they only had pears from Washington State, I felt betrayed. Here on the East Coast we have plenty of our own pear growers. I’m sure the store has a practical financial reason for sourcing pears from across the country, but I was disappointed.
Now, I’m no purist. Many times, when shopping for an event or for a recipe I’m testing, I’ve given in to a shortage of time and purchased everything from the store, ignoring the farmers in favor of convenience. But I knew that at least one pear vendor had braved the storm to set up shop at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, and I couldn’t face Barbara if I didn’t buy from him. So, I headed over to where the farmers were and found a bin of lightly bruised yet firm Bosc pears. I bought a bunch and went home with cold hands and a guilt-free conscience.
My locally sourced version of the dessert came out satisfyingly rich, with a creamy texture set off by crisp diced pears. Try making this simple, soothing treat to finish off a heavy meal. And just think, in a few months pears won’t be around anymore, so eat up while you can.
Makes approximately 2 cups of purée
5 Bosc pears
3 tablespoons butter or unrefined coconut oil, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 400 ºF.
Peel, quarter, and core 4 of the pears. Place them in a baking dish. Place the butter pieces on top of the pears. Pour in 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice, along with the maple syrup and vanilla. Sprinkle with the nutmeg and salt. Cover and cook for 40 minutes. Uncover and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.
Scrape the pears and their cooking liquid into the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and cool in the refrigerator for as little as 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
To serve, pour the purée into a wine glass. Peel and dice the remaining pear, and toss with the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice. Garnish the purée with the pear dice.