Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Market Report: The Promise of Pears

Photo Courtesy of Paul Christopher Williams

After 87 and sunny in Puerto Rico, and 50 and frigid in The Buff, I returned to New York this week to feel Fall in all her crisp-cool, golden-glowy glory. And damn did she feel good! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “My favorite season is fall. I’m a New Yorker; it’s inevitable.”

Autumn in New York is so good they make movies about it! For a few weeks every October, NYC becomes a veritable foodie playground wrapped in the bosom of warm afternoon sunshine and transitional harvest produce. You can still steal a last bite of summer with the final few tomatoes lingering round markets, or you can dive straight into fall and feast on Concord grapes, apples and pumpkins. Best of all,  you can do it all sans jacket, con sweater and scarf! Typically, I look forward to these few perfect weeks of weather and feasting with the same enthusiasm I have for all the autumnal restaurant launches round town and the collection of masked holiday masquerades that pop up in time for October’s other big bang…Halloween. But this year I seem to have a harder time letting go of summer. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on a whirlwind of travel for most of the month, maybe it’s because my Mamma is sick, or maybe it’s because Mr. Mixologist and I had such a good thing going on all summer and I’m afraid to find out if it can bear the blustery months ahead, but whatever it is, thus far, fall has found me feeling less than impressed and in need of a serious seasonal jump-start.

Photo Courtesty of Paul Christopher Williams

My remedy: the Union Square Farmers’ Market. It’s great in every season, but it’s particularly loveable come autumn leaves, apple cider, and pumpkin pies. So last Monday I took myself to the Square to see what I’d missed all month, hoping to once again fall for fall. And immediately (I shit you not!) I was on sensory overload as the smells and sights of the harvest season opened up before me, reminding me of the swoon-worthy effect autumn has on my soul.

Photo Courtesy of Christine Tsai

Ostensibly, I was at the market in search of fruit. After my recent success with Concord grape sorbet, I wanted something sweet (but still bikini friendly, after all, I do have an autumn tan a la PR to flaunt!) to inspire my aching spirit. Apples, of course, are the usual suspects when it comes to fall fruit, but I was in the mood to take it slow, and apples just seemed like too much of a leap; I needed something to help ease me into summer’s sunset. As I was musing over Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies, I almost walked by them: pears. A cousin of apples, pears are subtle and sweet, and just what I didn’t even know I was looking for! With their floral aroma and versatile applications, pears can show up at any point in a meal and feel right at home, but for some reason, the pear – referred to as “the gift of the gods” in the Odyssey – just doesn’t get the love it deserves.

I reached for some honey-brown Bosc pears and gave their necks a gentle squeeze to determine their ripeness. Pears don’t change colors as they mature, so the best way to check how ripe they are is to gently apply pressure to the stem area. Since this fruit isn’t picked ripe, a rock hard pear can simply be placed in a paper bag for a few days to become fully sweet and fragrant.

Once home, I decided some of my pears were destined to give themselves up to a playful dinner duet of savory pear tart and sweet pear salad. Their perfectly curvy shapes nestled into concentric circles in a tart shell lined with my pâte brisée, and stuffed with sliced Boscs mingling among rosemary, Constant Bliss brie and crushed hazelnuts, with only a sprinkling of brown sugar and a few pats of salted butter to finish things off. For the salad, I poached the pears in homemade vanilla sugar, sliced them in half lengthwise, plated them beside a bed of microgreens dressed in a cranberry vinaigrette, and shaved some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top.

Photo Courtesy of Christine Tsai

The next day, cheese-o-holic that I am, I decided I needed more pears, and more cheese, to pair. Whenever I’m feeling down my refrigerator becomes a regular fromagerie, so upon swinging open the fridge door, I found myself at an at-home version of Murray’s. I pulled out a hunk of pungent Roquefort and a bottle of pinot noir, and began poaching Bartelett pears this time, peeled but left whole, with a sache of fall flavours, including: cinnamon, star anise, whole cloves, and last night’s Willamette red. The result was a dessert that seduced Mr. Mixologist into crossing the bridge over from Brooklyn, and welcomed him with the smells of autumn and the sight of a happy chef at her stove.

Motivated in the kitchen, satisfied at the table, and no longer hungry for summer, I had found the cure for my ailing core. If you’re need of a seasonal pick-me-up, pears offer perfection in fall. I promise.

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