“No way am I poaching pears” I hear you say, if only in your mind. But trust me on this. Truly this whole recipe is very simple. And you can even use that dusty bottle of tawny port sitting in the bottom of the sideboard – next to the binoculars and the emergency candles. Oh, is that just me?
This winter salad of taste and texture contrasts is as unsubtle as a workmen’s wolf whistle, what with the fortified booze, salty blue cheese, bitter leaves and the sweet pears. I like it with a generous grinding of black pepper, so it’s a bit spicy too. Eaten with crusty bread a larger portion of this could easily be a light lunch instead of the starter for your holiday table. But it is too nice not to give it a special place before the main event.
You can go two ways with this: braising the Belgian endive (what we in the UK call chicory), or keeping it raw. Raw gives crunch and intriguing bitterness, while a quick braise in water, lemon and olive oil takes the edge off the bitter, but still keeps the essence of this underrated winter leaf. It’s your call. The braising can be done with the pear poaching, and both can be a done a day or two ahead of time and just gently warmed to body temperature and put together when you wish to eat.
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
I had a similar starter at the extravagant (what else?) #MakesChristmas launch party at the Waitrose Cookery School in London. Although I was far too excited to clock everything around me (and too chatty to make a dent in the mound of food I was served), I did take mental notes on the starter so that I could make it for my family. I think it might just pass muster at the Cookery School. Just.
By the way, there is still time for social media followers of @Waitrose to enter into the #MakesChristmas competition to win daily Christmas prizes, and to be in with a shot of a prepared luxury Christmas dinner for 12. Winners are picked at random. It is really worth entering, and so easy too. I won a place at the Heston and Waitrose BBQ this past summer, all because I took a few snaps on Instagram and let Waitrose know via the hashtag. Check this Waitrose page for more details.
I have a couple more Thanksgiving-ish recipes coming up that are easy enough for everyday, as well as impressive enough for Christmas. Look out for them, and for my round-up of some of my favourite easy winter recipe posts over the past nearly five years.
Port Poached Pears, Endive & Blue Cheese Salad
Don’t be scared of poaching the pears: as long as they are small and firm they will hold together well and provide the framework of this simple but impressive starter-style salad. You can make this even simpler by keeping the endive raw and crunchy, although I really love this vegetable lightly braised. As for the cheese, pull out the stops and get the most flavoursome and soft blue cheese that you can. Also, the crunch and taste of the walnuts brings this all together so please don’t leave them out. If this dish isn’t for a holiday meal, where you will be serving and eating lots of dishes, of course increase the cheese and add more nuts. Add a baguette too. xx
2-3 small, firm pears, peeled, quartered and the core removed with a paring knife
200ml ruby or tawny port (here is a guide from The Guardian on the differences between different styles of port – I used a tawny port)
1 tbsp of honey or date syrup
A large strip each of lemon peel and orange/clementine peel
2-4 heads of Belgian endive/chicory (see image as different countries call what I use different names), number dependant on size
2 tbsp olive oil, divided use
4 tbsp water
1 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt
4 tbsp blue cheese (more to taste)
Handful of toasted, chopped walnuts
Small palmful of parsley leaves, very finely minced
1. Cut each pear into 12 wedges in total. Place in a heavy saucepan with the port, honey and peels. Bring to the boil and fast simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, keeping the liquid. Put the pears in a shallow dish in a single layer. Boil the port down to a light syrup – about eight minutes. Let this cool for a few minutes then pour the syrup over the pears and use a spoon to turn the pears in the syrup. Set aside.
2. While the pears are poaching, cut the bases off of the endive/chicory and then cut in half widthways, and cut the more compact base into about 1 cm thickness lengths (see image). Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan, add the chicory, water and half of the lemon juice, along with a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil then simmer undercover for three minutes. Scoop the chicory out with a slotted spoon, shake off the water and place on individual plates.
3. Place the poached pears on the plates, add pinches of blue cheese and sprinkle over the toasted walnuts.
4. In a very small jug or a ramekin, whisk together the remaining oil with the chopped parsley. Dot the parsley oil over the salads and serve.