Pear and blue cheese bacon pizza
December is National Pear Month. Celebrate with a savory pear pizza as your main course.
December seems an odd month to honor any produce that isn’t a root vegetable. At least that’s what I thought until we recently attended a pear-focused luncheon at Chicago’s Blackbird. The event was hosted by Pear Bureau Northwest as part of an eight-city tour aimed primarily at helping people understand how to tell when pears are ripe and ready to eat. More about that later.Skip to next paragraph
Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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We were treated to a four-course meal by Chef de Cuisine David Posey that showcased pears’ versatility, from pear and butternut squash soup with blis char roe enrobed in stout foam to leg of lamb with roasted pears, maitake mushrooms and hearts of palm and, for dessert, warm beignets with butterscotch, spiced brittle, pears and maple ice cream. We were also treated to lively conversation between delicious bites, much of it about food, but only a little of it about pears. Still, we came away knowing a great deal about this popular fruit.
First, as we all try to eat more seasonally, the pears you see in the store now – or in January or well into the spring, for that matter – haven’t been grown in Chile or some other far-flung spot. They’re part of this fall’s US harvest. Pears ripen best off the tree, so they’re picked when mature, but not ripe, and kept in cold storage. While in cold storage, they don’t ripen, but do continue to convert starches to sugar, improving their flavor as they essentially hibernate. Once they show up on your supermarket’s non-refrigerated shelves, they begin to ripen.
So how do you know when they’re ready to eat? Skin color isn’t a reliable indicator. While Bartletts change from green to yellow as they ripen, most others show little change in color. The best way is to “check the neck,” an idea so helpful that Pear Bureau Northwest has actually trademarked it. Pears ripen from the inside out, and the neck is the narrowest part. Using your thumb, apply gentle pressure to the neck or stem end. If it yields slightly, the pear is ripe.
If the pears at the store aren’t ripe yet, that’s okay. They’ll actually transport more easily – a ripe pear’s skin is fragile – and will ripen at room temperature in your kitchen. And if they’re ripening faster than you can use them all up, pop them in the fridge to slow the process.
We’re no strangers to cooking with pears here at Blue Kitchen. Sure, we’ve made desserts with them – Baked Pears with Currants and Walnuts and Frangipane Pear and Cherry Cake were both big hits. We’ve also served them for breakfast as Ricotta Pancakes with Sautéed Pears, for lunch in Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Pear Jalapeño Chutney and for dinner as Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Pears and Onions. We’ve even sautéed them for a Valentine’s Day dinner of Duck Breasts with Pears and Shallots.
So the question wasn’t how to cook with pears, but rather what else to do with them. I had started down the pear cheese tart or galette path when Marion said, “What about pizza?” After we both shuddered over college memories of pineapple on pizza, we agreed she was on to something.