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A Pear of a Challenge
© Sue Courtney
21 March 2001

Last Month I wrote about the "Silichef Mystery Box Recipe Challenge", Silichef being a name derived from 'Silicon' and 'Chef'. This month another Silichef Challenge was posed for the food lovers that frequent the food forums of the Wine Lovers Page. Silichef II took a different format than Silichef I. Based on the 'Iron Chef' television program, which is not screened in New Zealand on free-to-air TV, it allows unlimited quantities of a single ingredient and the celebrity chefs have to create several courses using that ingredient. The rules for the Food Lovers Silichef Challenge were announced on the Food Lovers Discussion Forum, as follows -

For round two of Silichef, we're adopting the "single theme ingredient" format (aka the Iron Chef model). This round's mystery box contains unlimited quantities of the following ingredient:
The rules are few:

  • Your mission is to design and, we hope, prepare a meal that uses fresh pears in at least three courses: a starter, a main course and a dessert.

  • You may use as many pears and as many varieties of pears as you like, and you may use them in any way you like. There are no restrictions on other ingredients - anything goes.

  • Extra credit will be awarded for including extra courses. Menus will garner applause based on originality, ingenuity, coherence and guile. By guile we mean the art that hides art, the ability to disguise the fact that you're serving three (or more) iterations of the same thing.

  • And another thing or two...
  • Remember, the challenge is to come up with ideas for a meal, not find recipes in cookbooks or on the Web. Think of yourself as stranded in a country house with baskets of pears, a well-stocked pantry and absolutely no cookbooks. Of course, you should feel free to consult cookbooks for basic information and techniques (cooking times, oil temperature for deep-frying, procedure for making a soufflé, etc.).

  • In keeping with the FLDG's strong wine focus, please try to recommend an explicit wine, beer or spirits match. One bottle for the meal or one for each course, cook's choice.

Pears in Tree The challenge was set. I sat at my computer and stared out the window. Would anyone else taking part be so lucky to have eight pear trees in their backyard, I thought. Here were my trees laden with fruit with some about a week away from being ripe.

But even with so much resource material on hand, there was a catch. While my better half has always liked pear, I have never been a fan - something about the gritty texture, perhaps. I would let them fall to the ground, feed them to the sheep, give them away. This was going to be a challenge.

However, someone had suggested on the discussion forum that under ripe pears made a good crispy vegetable - just the inspiration I needed. The Challenge was a personal success and I've overcome my abhorrence of the fruit. Here are my successful recipes (I had a dud as well). I've included additional recipes as my own personal challenge to come up with inspirational ways to cook with pear, continues while the pears are in season.

The Recipes
* Pear, cheese and tomato on toast. - a snack for brunch.
* Pear, smoked salmon and cream cheese cocktails. - for pre dinner drinks
* Warm chicken salad with garlic oil flavoured pear and kumara crisps- for lunch or dinner starter
* Pear and potato fritters - Versatile - for any meal
* Pear and creamy blue cheese sauce - to combine in a salad or for a main course side dish.
* Pork and Pear Roll-ups - Elegant for dinner
* Poached Pears in marsala with whipped cream and caramelised pear strips - a Decadent dessert

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Pear, cheese and tomato on toast.
Slices of bread
One almost ripe pear
One decent-size tomato
Grated Edam Cheese

Thinly slice pear and tomato.
Toast bread on one side till done, and toast ever so lightly on the other side.
Place thin slices of pear, then tomato, then cheese and place under he griller until the cheese has melted. This is yummy for Sunday brunch.
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Pear, smoked salmon and cream cheese cocktails.
Pears and SMoked Salmon One or two pears
Spreadable cream cheese
Smoked salmon

Variation one: Cut pears into cube. Cut smoked salmon into strips. Smear one side of salmon with cream cheese. Wrap around the cube of pear and secure with a toothpick. Variation two: Slice pears into rounds across the core. Remove any hard bits from the core area. Spread pear with cream cheese and pile pieces of smoked salmon on top. Decorate with tiny sprigs of dill. Serve as a pre-dinner cocktail with a glass of Champagne or New World sparkling wine.
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Warm chicken salad with garlic oil flavoured pear and kumara crisps
Salad with pear and kumara Chicken fillets - about 3 per person
1 purple-skinned kumara - peeled.
1 unripe pear - wash but do not peel.
Salad greens
Red capsicum
2 tbsp butter
Garlic infused olive oil
Oil vinaigrette for serving.

First make the crisps, which can be set aside while the chicken is cooking. Slice kumara into thin strips. Ditto for the pear.

Pear Crisps

After some experimentation, I've concluded the following is the best way to prepare the pear crisps. The pear is quite watery, so place pear slices onto a paper towel, then place another paper towel on top and pat to remove as much excess water as possible. Now place the pear slices onto racks onto top of a baking tray. Mist with garlic-infused olive oil. Bake in a 200°C fan oven for 5 minutes. Remove and check the slices. If the air has been circulating well they should be cooked and dry, otherwise turn over. Turn the oven off and place pears back in oven for 2 minutes. Do not lave any longer or they will burn. The skins will have curled and will be quite crisp. Put aside until required.

Prepare the chicken. Melt butter in a frying pan. Add chicken fillets and cook until tender, stirring well and allow chicken to become golden brown. Remove chicken from pan. Shred and return to pan to colour up the shredded pieces. Put aside.

In the same pan, add about 1 tbsp butter and when melted add the kumara slices, frying for 2-3 minutes each side until golden. Drain off excess butter on paper towels. If desired, the kumara can be cooked in the same method as the pear. In this case leave the skins on before slicing.

Onto each plate pile some salad greens, the red capsicum and a share of the chicken pieces. Form the pile into a volcano-like mountain. Arrange kumara and pear slices on top.

This is a very wine friendly dish. I had several varieties of NZ wines open in the cupboard - dregs from my wine class and so on. We tried a Pinot Gris first, which wasn't as great as I had expected, but the Rieslings (2 of them) a Gewurztraminer and a Chardonnay were all good and I imagine the Sauvignon Blanc would have been too if it hadn't been so totally past it.
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Pear and potato fritters.
1 pear
1 potato about the same size as the pear
1 egg
1 tbsp of flour
salt and pepper
butter for frying

Grate the pear and the potato. Squeeze the gratings as hard as you can to remove excess liquid. Beat the egg and add to the gratings, stir in a tablespoons of flour and the salt and pepper. Form the fritters into desired shape (I had with fish, so formed into similar shape to the fish fillet).
Melt butter in a pan, and cook the fritters for about 5 minutes each side. Cook 2 or 3 fritters as a time, keeping cooked fritters warm in the oven until all fritters have been cooked.
I have served the fritters as a base for chicken and for fish. They could also be served as a vegetable accompaniment.

Variation: To make a hash-brown type of fritter for breakfast, a couple of tablespoons of grated cheese could be added to the mixture.

I loved these fritters, which subtlely concealed the pear. The chicken and fritter were the best combo.
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Pears in a blue cheese sauce.
1 packet of Blue Brie - I used the New Zealand Bouton D'or.
1/4 to 1/2 cup cream

The key to this recipe is the simple sauce. Remove white rind from brie and discard. Chop brie into small pieces. Place into in a microwave (Pyrex) glass jug and added fresh cream to cover. Microwave on medium for 30 seconds or until cheese has mostly melted. Remove and stir well. Add a little more cream to give a runny consistency to the sauce. Microwave again for 30 seconds on medium, stirred again and repeat. Stir well. Cut up some pears into cubes. If using as a vegetable accompaniment to meat dishes, you may like to saute pears for a few minutes before serving, but fresh ripe pears are fine. Cover with the sauce.

This is the basis for a Pear and Walnut Salad. To some shredded iceberg lettuce add the cubes of fresh pears and a handful of chopped walnuts. use the blue cheese sauce as a dressing. Thanks to Celia Callow for this idea.
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Pork and Pear roll-ups (For 2)
4 pieces pork schnitzel (escallopes)
1 unripe-ish pear
1 small onion
2 tbsp butter
4 fresh leaves of pineapple sage
4 fresh sprigs of thyme, about 10cm (4 in.) long
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup Chardonnay

Beat pork schnitzels with a mallet until thin.
Peel and quarter pear.
Place a rosemary sage leaf on a piece of pork, place a pear quarter on the leaf, then roll up the pork around the pear and secure with a toothpick.
Melt butter in frying pan. Add onions and saute until starting to caramelise. Remove.
Add the pork roll-ups to the pan and sear on all sides.
Remove roll-ups to a casserole dish.
Remove pan from heat then deglaze the pan with the 2 tbsp water, then add the wine and stir well to pick up all the cooking residues from the bottom of the pan. Pour liquid over the pork the pork, add the onions and the sprigs of thyme. Cook in a 180°C (350°F) oven for an hour, turning the roll-ups over after 1/2 hour.
When meat is cooked and tender, pour juices back into frying pan, bring quickly to boil and cook for a couple of minutes to reduce then thicken remaining juices with cornflour.
To serve, place 2 roll ups on each plate, pour sauce over, spoon onions over and decorate with sprigs of thyme.

Suggested wine Villa Maria Private Bin Gisborne Chardonnay 2000, a slightly oily, lightly oaked, pear and citrus flavoured wine. What was not used in the cooking was consumed with the meal - a perfect accompaniment with the flavours matching superbly.

Note: it is important to use an unripe pear so it will hold its shape during cooking.
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Poached Pears in marsala with whipped cream and caramelised pear strips. (For 2)
Pears in Masala Wine 2 pears
1/2 cup marsala wine
1/3 cup fresh cream, whipped
1 egg white
1/4 cup icing sugar

Peel pears. Cut one pear in half and remove the core. Cut a piece off the outside of the pear so it will sit in flat in a dish with the cavity to the top. Prick the cavity side of the pears with a fork. Place pears into a small backing dish and filled the cavity where the core was, with marsala wine. Cover dish and baked the pear in oven at about 180°C until quite well cooked (about an hour), turning pears over once during cooking.

With the other pear, cut into tick julienne-like strips, dip into beaten egg white and then into icing sugar. Melt butter in frying pan and fry each strip. This is quite laborious work and if the pieces are too thin, they will break up, but they end up being quite caramelised and delicious.

To serve, place pear cavity side up in a dessert plate. Fill cavity with whipped cream. Pour remain sauce from the baked pears over cream and decorate with the caramelised pear strips.
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