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Pears sing in so many ways

It was 2 hours until the Thanksgiving turkey would be pulled from the oven, and a welcome lull had settled upon my kitchen. Time to make the pear salad. It was going to be a simple affair: fresh greens tossed with toasted filberts, dried cranberries, slivers of sweet onion, new-crop navels, crumbled feta and, of course, some succulent chunks of Northwest comice pears.

Eating a pear — comice or otherwise — that has been properly grown, ripened and stored can be one of life’s most fabulous culinary experiences. And except for the apple, I can’t think of a single other fruit that is so complementary to both sweet and savory sidekicks.

Rice Pudding with Fresh Comice Pears, Roasted Pistachios and Honey

Makes about 5 cups

This is a simple yet elegant way to jazz up a batch of the ultimate comfort food, rice pudding.

1 cup arborio or bomba rice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups water

5 cups whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon orange-flower water (if unavailable, substitute vanilla)

1 ripe Comice pear, cored and sliced

1/3 cup chopped, unsalted, roasted pistachios

Honey (for drizzling at the table)

Bring rice, water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring fairly constantly to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot, until the water is almost completely absorbed, which will take about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the milk, then return to a simmer, and cook, stirring fairly constantly until the rice is tender and the whole affair has thickened, which will take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat and add the sugar and orange-flower water (or vanilla), stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

Let cool slightly, if serving warm. Or chill.

When ready to serve, spoon the rice pudding into lovely glass bowls and top each serving with some of the pear slices and a sprinkling of the pistachios. Drizzle honey over all and serve.

Spinach and Pears with Candied Hazelnuts and Raspberry-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

8 to 10 cups mixed baby spinach, baby arugula and other salad greens, tough stems removed

1 sweet onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

Raspberry-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

2 ripe pears (preferably comice), peeled, cored and thinly sliced

About 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (or feta)

Candied Hazelnut Garnish (recipe follows)

1/2 cup dried cherries or dried cranberries

To assemble the salad, place the spinach and other salad greens in a large bowl, along with the sweet onion slices. Toss with enough of the vinaigrette to evenly coat the leaves.

To serve, place a serving of the tossed greens on each salad plate. Divide the sliced pears among the plates, arranging them attractively on one edge of the greens. Sprinkle each serving with a portion of the blue cheese, then the candied hazelnuts and dried cherries or cranberries. Drizzle an extra bit of vinaigrette over everyone’s serving of pears.

Candied Hazelnuts: In a medium to small nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar together over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup of chopped, roasted and skinned hazelnuts and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring fairly constantly, until the sugar caramelizes around the nuts and they are a rich golden-brown. Remove to parchment paper and separate the nuts so they won’t stick together when cool. May be prepared several days ahead and stored in a covered container. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Raspberry-Poppyseed Vinaigrette: In a bowl or pint-sized jar with a lid, whisk together 1/4 cup raspberry vinegar, 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar, 2 teaspoons poppy seeds, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 finely minced clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a scant 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Whisk in 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Be sure to whisk thoroughly again just before using. May be prepared and refrigerated until needed (the olive oil will thicken when cool, so remove from refrigerator ahead of serving time to allow it to reliquify).

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Pears, Wild Rice and Walnuts

Any pear variety will work in this recipe.

3 acorn or dumpling squash

Freshly ground pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup wild rice

1-1/2 cups chicken broth (canned is OK)

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 large rib celery, finely chopped

2 firm pears peeled, halved lengthwise, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 teaspoons minced fresh sage

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves

1/3 cup minced fresh parsley

1/3 cup toasted and chopped walnuts (see note below)

1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut each squash in half crosswise. Scoop out the seeds and strings. If necessary, trim the top and bottom so the squash sit firmly and place them on a rimmed baking sheet, flesh side up. Sprinkle each half with a little pepper and nutmeg to taste. Using 3 tablespoons of the butter, dot each half with some. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake the squash just until moist and tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the rice, chicken broth, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender, about 40 minutes. When the rice is done, most of the water should be evaporated.

Meanwhile, in a 10-inch saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Swirl to coat the pan, then saute the onion, garlic, celery and carrot until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the pears and saute 2 minutes longer. Cover the pan, adjust the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture until the vegetables are just crisp-tender, about 3 minutes longer. Add the sage, thyme and parsley and cook 1 more minute. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, sauteed vegetables and pears, walnuts and cranberries. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Mound the rice mixture into the squash halves, dividing it evenly. Cut the remaining tablespoon of butter into six chunks. Dot each stuffed squash with the butter. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until heated through, about 20 minutes.

Toasting walnuts: Place the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 5 to 8 minutes. Alternatively, the nuts can be browned in a microwave. Place the nuts in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave on high power for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Watch carefully that they don’t burn.

— Recipe from Pear Bureau Northwest

Pear-Cranberry Crumble

Makes about 8 servings.

Any pear variety will do just fine.

Crumble Topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup old-fashioned (not quick-cooking) oats

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

Pinch of salt

13 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and well chilled

Filling:

5 cups peeled, cored and sliced pears

3/4 cup dried cranberries, plumped in hot water (or rum)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Vanilla ice cream (optional)

To prepare the topping, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and salt. Using a mixer, beat in the cold butter and mix on low speed until the topping just begins to come together and resembles large bits of chunky dough. Transfer the topping to a shallow container, breaking it up a bit. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To prepare the filling, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the pears, cranberries, lemon juice, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, salt and flour. Toss the ingredients lightly to coat evenly and pour into a 1-1/2 quart shallow baking dish. Top with the crumble topping, breaking up any large clumps with your fingers and spreading it evenly. At this point, there may be areas that aren’t completely covered with topping, but don’t worry because it will spread a bit as it bakes. Bake until the topping begins to brown and the filling is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Remove the crumble from the oven and let it cool somewhat before serving. Delicious with vanilla ice cream!

Adapted from “Bistro Cooking At Home” by Gordon Hamersley.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

PHOTO BY JAN ROBERTS-DOMINGUEZ Rice Pudding with Fresh Comice Pears, Roasted Pistachios and Honey