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Put Comice pears in salad for departure from Caesar

It’s been a less-than-stellar year for Rogue Valley pears.

News last month about the impacts of weather and fire — not to mention the coronavirus — on the local pear industry further dampened spirits for what many anticipate to be a Spartan holiday.

Still, it’s been something of a shock to see so few locally grown pears in supermarkets. And the aesthetics of the available stock don’t suggest inclusion in festive gift baskets that I typically like to assemble for pear-loving family and friends.

But I’ve purchased pears all the same, firm in my conviction that they’re suited to many recipes and holding out hope that some will ripen juicy enough to justify eating out of hand. Soups, such as the squash puree featured in this week’s food section (see the e-edition) are an ideal way to use pears that fall short in the texture department. Risotto is another recipe recently posted to this blog that ameliorates subpar pears.

In more abundant years, Southern Oregon’s prized Comice pears sweeten my family’s seasonal salads, often in concert with nuts, dried fruit and blue cheese. But a distinctive dressing goes a long way toward improving pears that aren’t at their peak. “Caramel apple” vinaigrette tied together the flavors of pear, kale, bacon, blue cheese and Brussels sprouts in a salad I recently enjoyed for lunch on Common Block Brewing Company’s patio.

For a creamy dressing that departs from Roquefort and ranch, try this one tossed with butter lettuce, fine-quality cheese, walnuts and pears. Recipe testers for the Los Angeles Times recommend tasting the dressing first before adding the optional garlic, which lends more of a Caesar character.

Chopped Pear Salad With Buttermilk Dressing

1/2 cup chilled buttermilk

1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 small garlic clove, peeled (optional)

8 ounces butter lettuce or little gem lettuces (1 to 2 heads), whole leaves separated, washed and dried

1 ripe, chilled Comice or Warren pear, about 8 ounces, peeled (optional), cored and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

4 ounces Gruyere, Point Reyes Toma or another semi-firm, lightly aged cheese, rind removed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

1/4 cup radish or broccoli sprouts

To make buttermilk dressing, place the mayonnaise in a medium bowl and, while whisking, slowly pour in the buttermilk (this helps avoid lumps). Add the lemon juice, mustard, salt, cayenne and season with pepper. If you like, use a microplane grater to grate in the garlic (taste dressing without it first because garlic will give it a Caesar-like taste). Stir everything to combine and keep chilled until ready to use. Dressing will keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week

When ready to serve, arrange the lettuce leaves over a large serving platter or plate. Distribute the pears and cheese all over lettuce then season lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle salad with 1/4 cup dressing, then sprinkle the walnuts and sprouts on top. Serve with remaining dressing alongside side.

Tribune News Service photo