So I have a few little fruit-themed posts to do; ones you can kick around in case you need a little something extra for your Thanksgiving feast next week. Fruit doesn’t get much of a chance to shine during the holiday; sure, there’s cranberries, and maybe an apple pie, but always a side note, never a feature. And understandably so; there’s not the summer abundance of fruit right now. Even though there’s less of a choice right now, the ones which are available should be at your table. Or, at the very least, be invited over to hang out beforehand.
Take this pear compote, for instance. It doesn’t have to be on your official menu, but it can keep people away from nabbing too many pre-dinner forkfuls of the side dishes. It’s a bright little thing to serve up with a few cheeses and some french bread slices. Somehow it makes the whole “cheese and bread” thing seem lighter than usual, and adding it to the combo makes it little more well-rounded. Your guests will get all sorts of flavors and textures in one bite, so they’re not going to gorge themselves on it and ruin their appetites.
Experiment with this in terms of pairing (yeah, yeah; I’m not trying to pun it out here, but that’s the way it goes.) I liked it with french bread, and the pumpernickel leaves are just store-bought sandwich slices cut with a pie crust maple leaf cutter. Nothing to it. If you choose that route, I’d toast the bread with a little olive oil to make it a crostini of sorts; I gave you instructions for that below. If you don’t feel like messing with it, serve the French bread in slices, or go with a variety of fancy crackers. As for the cheeses, just think about a pear and what would taste best with it; a good, sturdy Parmesan, a nice Maytag, maybe some manchego or gorgonzola. Toast yourself some walnuts, if you have them, and throw them on the tray also. You decide based on what you like and the likes (and dislikes) of your guests. Give them a few options so they can mix and match.
I wasn’t planning on making an appetizer (since there’s very few of us) but I need bait so people stay out of my kitchen. I feel like this would work perfectly for that. And – bonus – it travels well! Make it in the morning, let it cool, and take it to wherever you’re going to celebrate.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another little fruit idea for you. Something which would also work well in your cheese tray planning, perhaps. Or by itself.
Oh: and if you were being very shmancy about this, you’d whip up a batch of extremely easy parmesan sage crackers to go with. Your guests may pass out with joy. Peace on Earth.
Adapted from Williams Sonoma’s Food Made Fast: Small Plates.
Spiced Pear Compote
- 3 ripe pears (Bartlett/Williams or Bosc, something like that), peeled, quartered, cored, and coarsely chopped
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 tablespoons white wine (something fruity is good; nothing too heavy)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- pinch allspice
- pinch sea salt (to taste)
- small sprig fresh rosemary* (leaves intact; you’re pulling this out later)
- assortment of cheeses (Parmesan, gorgonzola, manchego, and Maytag are all good choices)
- assortment of bread/crackers (water crackers are great; I also enjoy a harvest wheat, or even a sesame cracker. Breads? Go wild. French baguette, pumpernickel, sourdough, or pick up a specialty bread, like a cranberry walnut), sliced into rounds or cut with a cookie cutter and toasted (or not, but directions are below)
- walnuts to scatter, but that’s optional.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, bring your pears, cinnamon stick, wine, sugar, allspice and sprig of rosemary to a steady simmer, stirring gently a few times, but only to help dissolve the sugar and get the flavors disbursed.
Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 12-13 minutes until your pears are translucent, very soft, and your liquid has reduced down and thickened slightly. Remove from heat, fish out the cinnamon stick and the rosemary sprig, and stir in your pinch (or more) of salt, carefully tasting as you go, until it’s how you like it. Let cool to room temperature before serving, or you can stick it in the refrigerator for a bit. You’ll serve this at or near room temperature.
This makes, depending on your pear size, between 3/4 to 1 cup of compote. Obviously for more guests, double or even triple the recipe. This may involve simmering for longer, so be mindful of that. If you’re having people over, I would make this the morning of, so you eat it at it’s most delicious. However, I see no problem with making it up to maybe the night before, if you absolutely must.
If you want to toast bread:
Do it your way, if you have a way. If you don’t have a way, use my way.
Preheat your oven to 400˚F.
Slice your bread up into crostini-sized pieces (or do what I did, and cut little shapes out with pie cutter or small cookie cutters), and lay on a baking sheet which will allow you to fit them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, season with a little fresh ground black pepper and salt (optional).
Bake in oven until you start to get a good toast on your slices; typically this takes 7-8 minutes total. Depending on the bread and how delicate/dense/dry/moist it is, it may vary, so use your eyes as your primary guide to how it’s doing. Remember; breads dry up once cooled, so you don’t want them so crunchy they fall apart on you. think “light toasting” and not “I’m putting butter and jelly on this.” Because you’re not.
You probably could have guessed this, but I like an “organized chaos” way of arranging a cheese plate; too finicky and the whole thing looks a shambles as soon as someone breaks into it. Go with a slightly haphazard approach and nothing ever messed with. I got a big serving block made of slate as a wedding gift 5 years ago; back then, I thought i’d never use it. I was wrong; I use it constantly, because something simple like that is a good staple to have when you do things like this. If you don’t have one, add it to your christmas list, and you won’t believe how often you get it out.
At any rate, scatter and stack your bread/crackers/cheeses/walnuts, in a loving fashion, on whichever plate suits you. Place the compote in a small serving bowl and add one of those cute tiny spoons. Watch guests ooh and aah and so distracted by the loveliness they forget to bother you in the kitchen.