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.
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.
The Intertubes thought so, too. Search pear cheese pizza on Google and you’ll get roughly a bazillion results. Many of them, however, take you in a dessert or vaguely sweet appetizer direction, some calling for sugar, brown sugar and even cinnamon. I wanted to go savory with this. And I wanted it to be a serious meal. So I started with blue cheese, a sharp, salty, big-personality cheese. You could also use Gouda, goat cheese or even the pizza classic, mozzarella, but I think blue cheese plays well against the sweetness of the pear. I added onion to further separate this pizza from the dessert course. And as a final big hit of savory/umami, I added bacon. If you want to go vegetarian, you can skip the bacon, but I think it really anchored this pizza as main course fare.
Even without the planned side salad that didn’t happen, Pear Blue Cheese Bacon Pizza was a satisfying dinner – and a delicious way to celebrate National Pear Month.
Pear Blue Cheese Bacon Pizza
4 to 5 strips of bacon
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
6 ounces blue cheese (see recipe)
Store-bought or homemade pizza dough (see recipe)
Corn meal (optional)
1 ripe pear (I used a Bartlett)
Preheat oven to 425ºF. Sauté bacon in a large skillet, turning frequently, until crisp. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. When cool, tear/crumble into pieces.
Heat a medium skillet over medium flame. Drizzle in some olive oil and sauté onion for two minutes to soften slightly, stirring frequently. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Crumble blue cheese by hand. (Buy good cheese and please don’t buy the pre-crumbled stuff – it’s dry and not as flavorful.) Set aside.
Prepare the pizza dough. If you’re making your own, you should have already made it. For this pizza, I used Pillsbury’s Thin Crust Pizza Crust, which I first wrote about here. It’s easy to work with and really quite good. I’ve also bought balls of dough from Whole Foods, another good alternative if you don’t want to make your own. Whatever dough you’re using, I like to sprinkle some corn meal and flour on the work surface before rolling out the dough.
The Pillsbury dough unrolls into a 10-inch by 15-inch rectangle. I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper, sprinkled the corn meal and flour on it and unrolled the dough directly on it, reshaping it slightly as needed. If you’re working with a ball of dough, roll it out on a flat surface into a 12-inch circle and transfer it to an oiled pizza pan.
Slice the pear. Wait until everything else is ready to assemble – the pear may discolor if sliced too early in the process. Core the pear, then slice it in half lengthwise. Thinly slice the halves crosswise, creating thin crescents. Place pear slices in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil and gently toss by hand to coat them.
Sprinkle crumbled cheese evenly on pizza dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Arrange pear slices on top of cheese, followed by onion slices and bits of bacon.
Place pizza pan or baking sheet on middle rack in the oven and bake until the the crust is a deep golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let pizza rest for a few minutes, then serve.