Poached Pear, Caramelized Onion, and Goat Cheese Salad
Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), dispenses change and cooking ideas to readers and friends. She shares her peak-of-the-season recipes with Rural Intelligence to help us make the most of what’s growing in our region. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has just announced that she has a new one in the works; tentatively named “Meals from the Homemade Pantry” (Clarkson Potter), due out in 2015.
I was thinking how lame it was that I’d never truly caramelized onions (until this salad), and I wasn’t really quite sure how. So the other day, Joey and I found ourselves in a pretty amazing situation. For months, we’d had tickets to see Rufus Wainwright in our very own little town, an exciting prospect on its own. But before the show, we made dinner! This might not sound so strange, but I’m not sure that Joey and I have ever made and eaten dinner on our own in maybe, well, a long time.
Naturally, we surveyed our beverage options.
Let it be known here that Joey and I are not big drinkers… at all. I can drink that boy under the table, and I’m just a one-drink kind of girl. But we made some drinks—well, one each—and I guess they were a little strong, because we were a drunken pair.
For all those childless couples out there, this might be a normal Friday night, but for us it was entirely unique. The night was all sunny and warm and glittery, and there was this magic in not being responsible for anything (the girls were with their grandpa). It was just pure fun. And then I made this salad. And Joey grilled some pork chops from our local pig in the freezer.
And dinner was so good that we ate without talking, and then we had to go to the concert, so we left the dishes right there on the table, embarking on a drunken and happy walk to town.
Poached Pear, Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Salad
So, we’ve got a few different elements here:
1. Lettuce of your choice, washed and dried
2. Goat cheese: I use Monterey Chevre
3. Caramelized onions: I’m sure you know how to caramelize onions, but I had to figure this one out. Here’s what I did:
Slice up 3-4 onions so you end up with long strings. Melt a hunk of butter in a large skillet, add the onions at low to medium heat. Toss the onions with a spatula so that they don’t stick and burn. Cook, tossing when you think of it, for about 40 minutes, or until the onions are a nice golden brown. Then dump the onions into a bowl, and you should have a brown crust on your skillet. Pour a few spoonfuls of white wine vinegar, a dash of water, and a few spoonfuls of brown sugar into the skillet. Let it boil, scraping the crust off the pan as you go.
Pour this fabulous dark brown substance over the onions, stir it in, and refrigerate.
4. Poached pears: I used two pears for this. Peel the pears, cut in half from the stem to bottom, and scoop out the core with a spoon. Bring about six cups of water to a boil, add 1/2 cup sugar and a length of lemon peel. Simmer the pears in the liquid for about 15 minutes, or until they are tender when pricked with a fork. Refrigerate in the poaching liquid, and when ready to assemble, slice.
5. Candied pecans: In a medium bowl, mix a few glugs of real maple syrup, a splash of vodka, and a few dashes of chili pepper. Toss a few handfuls of pecans into this mixture. Lay on a baking sheet and bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them—they can burn quickly.
6. Vinaigrette: Whisk together about 1/4 cup olive oil, a few dashes of sherry vinegar, a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, and a spoonful of whole grain mustard. Adjust to your liking.
Assemble together and top with fresh pepper.
Reprinted with permission from Eatingfromthegroundup.com. All text and photos copyright 2008-13 by Alana Chernila.