Pears and bleu cheese are just a natural pairing. Pears have the right kind of sweetness to make a great contrast to the bite of the bleu cheese. For Easter Dinner, we wanted a salad that had a little punch to it, and this one fit the bill. The peppery arugula added a layer of complexity to the whole dish. I’m sometimes a little concerned that we use arugula too much—it feels like every time we need a green that’s any kind of spicy, it’s our default. Having great weapons in your arsenal is fine, I guess, so long as they don’t become crutches.
There were two small deviations in the recipe. The first was that we used the last of a bottle of 1927 Pedro Ximenez Solera instead of Tawny Port (we were quite happy with the results) and hard apple cider instead of the non-alcoholic version (we didn’t notice much difference).
2 Anjou pears, ripe
8 ounces baby arugula
Juice of 2 lemons
2 ounces coarsely crumbled bleu cheese
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
3 tablespoons walnut halves, chopped and toasted
¼ cup apple cider (or juice)
3 tablespoons port
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
¼ cup good extra virgin olive oil
We peeled the pears and sliced them in half, using a paring knife and melon baller to remove the core and seeds to make a little round well into which we stuffed the filling. We trimmed a little of the rounded side of the pear halves so that they’d lay flat in the dish. We tossed the pears in some lemon juice to keep them from getting brown, then put them in a square baking dish.
We made the filling by tossing the bleu cheese, cranberries, and walnuts together in a bowl, then divided that mixture among the four pear halves, mounding it into each of the hollows.
Using the same small bowl, we combined the cider, port, and brown sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolved. We poured that mixture over and around the pears. The reason we kept the measurements for this the same is that the pears need to sit in a certain level of liquid, and we thought more in this case would be better than less. We baked the pears at 375F for 30 minutes, basting them every ten minutes or so. We set them aside to cool a little while we made the dressing.
We whisked together the olive oil, ¼ cup of lemon juice (which was one full medium-sized lemon), and ¼ cup of the basting liquid. We divided the arugula onto two plates, drizzled some of the dressing onto it, laid the pears on top, and poured the remainder of the dressing on top of the pears. We sprinkled some sea salt on top before serving.
We served two wines with this course The first was 2011 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier, and the second was 2009 St Hallett Poachers Blend (Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling). The Poacher’s Blend was a nice wine, but the Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend was perfect. The nose of sweet banana and tropical fruit led to a crisp, honeyed grapefruit palate that set off the dish marvelously.
The pears were still a little firm for my tastes. Next time we do this, I think we’ll get even riper pears and give them the avocado treatment—in a brown paper bag in the pantry for a few hours. Nonetheless, the salad made an excellent second course for our Easter Sunday dinner.