Do you remember the first time you tasted Roquefort? Heheh. Me too. Took awhile, didn’t it? Roquefort, like bottarga, scotch and uni, is one of those tastes that waits for your tongue to grow up. Tangy, salty, sharp like nobody’s business, and in your face with its smell. Ideally, you’re with someone who will hold your hand as you take your first mouthful of Roquefort, steadfast as your eyes water, until sufficient sensory signals from your tongue accumulate in your brain to ignite Roquefort-appreciation synapses, and they in turn link together in a blazing neuro-culinary ah-ha moment. Which, given the components of this week’s recipe – fat, sugar, salt – they are sure to do. Poached Pears with Honey Walnuts and Roquefort Ice Cream, is a very easy dessert, but one for the big people. It is also, for those hesitant about blue cheese, an excellent introduction, since only a small amount is used, and that is mashed into vanilla ice cream.
Roquefort is a strong blue cheese made in the south of France from sheep’s milk. It is, along with Gorgonzola, Stilton and Bleu d’Auvergne one of the Four Horsemen of the Blue Cheese-a-lypse. The mold Penicillium roqueforti (think the mold on bread) gives the cheese its distinct blue-green veining and its acrid aroma of butyric acid. There’s a wheelbarrow’s worth of fascinating information about the aroma of butryic acid, but nothing I can discuss here without pissing off my wife, so let’s leave it alone. Suffice to say that some of us seemed wired to like these sorts of things; others find them–to quote my mother-in-law’s term of ultimate opprobrium–unattractive.
Personally, I think this dessert comes down on the compelling side. If you’re still exploring your feelings regarding Roquefort, you can find no milder challenge than a little Roquefort ice cream atop poached pears with honey-glazed walnuts. It’s a greased slide to dessert elysium. For adults. Holding hands. Enjoy. Ken
Poached Pears and Honey Walnuts with Roquefort Ice Cream
- 1 Meyer lemon
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups white wine, such as a Reisling
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup +2 tablespoons honey
- 3 fresh bay leaves
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 4 ripe Bosc pears
- 2 ounces lightly toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 ounce Roquefort or other rich blue cheese, at room temperature.
- ½ pint premium vanilla ice cream
- Wash the lemon and remove the zest with zester that takes it off in skinny strips (see photo). Or remove the zest with a peeler and use a knife, cut it into very thin strips. Squeeze the juice into a bowl.
- Combine the water, white wine, sugar, ¼ cup honey, zest, juice, bay leaves and thyme in a non-reactive pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to the low. Allow it to simmer while you peel the pears.
- Pull the ice cream from the fridge so it can start to soften.
- Peel the pears, leaving the stem on. Using a small melon baller or spoon, remove the papery bits at the base of the pear. Put the pears into the poaching liquid and cover with a round of parchment. See the photos for how to cut the parchment to size. Cook at the lowest simmer until the pears are tender, 40 minutes or so. Flip them half way through so they cook evenly.
- While the pears poach, make the ice cream. Put the blue cheese onto a cutting board and mash with a fork. Add the softened ice cream and mash some more, folding it over on itself to distribute the blue cheese evenly. I like to use a fork and a bench scraper. Pretending you’re working at a mix-in ice cream shop. Place the mixed ice cream in a bowl and return it to the freezer.
- Transfer the cooked pears to a plate to cool.
- Put the pan back on the stove. You should have about 3 cups of liquid in the poaching pan. Increase the heat to medium and reduce the liquids by two thirds–you should end up with about a cup. Take 3 tablespoons of the liquid and set aside. Pour the rest over the pears. When the pears have cooled, slice each one in half lengthwise. Use the melon baller to remove the core and any stringy bits.
- Return the 3 tablespoons of liquid to the pan. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey and the walnuts and cook just a minute or so to blend everything and coat the walnuts. If you cook it longer, it will thicken and harden as soon as it cools. Add the salt and toss. Remove from the heat.
- Allow the ice cream to soften slightly before serving. Serve the pears at room temperature in a bit of the poaching liquid with a scoop of ice cream and a spoonful of glazed walnuts.
It must have been the anticipated trip to France that inspired these polite poached pears. They’re more subtle than my typical dessert choice. These are delicate flavored and soft textured, threatening to be boring. But I took care of that. I used my risky savory cook hands and dropped a big blast of Roquefort cheese into vanilla ice cream. And hey, it works. I love that it works.