How to Roast Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
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A Plea on Behalf of Pears

Submitted by on December 9, 2010 – 7:41 amNo Comment

Pears don’t seem to get as much attention as I think they deserve, and tend to be overshadowed by other, more-anticipated cold-weather fruits like apples and clementines.

But having gorged myself all week on an insanely delicious crop of enormous, sweet, buttery-ripe and preternaturally juicy Comice pears, I decided to take up the case for this underappreciated tree fruit.  Besides, the U.S. Pear Bureau has declared December to be National Pear Month, so what better excuse to divert our collective attention away from the lure of chocolate, eggnog and other holiday excesses and toward a more righteous seasonal treat?

The Case for Pears

Pears are among the highest-fiber fresh fruits available, which makes them an excellent choice for a filling mid-day snack when that sweet craving hits.  One medium-sized pear (skin included) contains almost 6g of fiber–which is about 25% of the daily recommended intake for women!  That’s more fiber than a medium-sized apple or a cup of strawberries, and about twice the amount of fiber as a banana or an orange.  In fact, its about the equivalent amount of fiber (a touch more, actually) as a cup of steamed broccoli.  Moreover, each pear contains about 3g of “soluble” fiber, which is the kind that helps lower cholesterol levels; this renders pears among the best fruit sources of cholesterol-lowering fiber available.  In fact, a medium sized pear has more soluble fiber than a cup of cooked oatmeal!  (Of course, diced fresh pears make a fabulous topping for oatmeal in lieu of high-sugar dried fruits.)

In addition to their high fiber content, pears also naturally contain a modest amount of sorbitol, a natural “sugar alcohol’ whose poor digestibility can serve as a gentle natural laxative in a similar manner as prunes.  These two factors make pears a great natural remedy for constipation. (Of course, the opposite is also true: if you suffer from diarrhea, avoiding pears or pear nectar is probably wise.)

Then of course there is the matter of taste.  Pears come in all varieties, from crisper and more subdued Boscs, Concordes and Seckels to luscious, sweet, dribble-down-your-chin-with-juice Comices and Bartletts, to middle-of-the-road Anjous.  Different varieties can suit different occasions, from snacking, to pairing with cheeses or tossing in salads, to poaching for dessert.

Picking a Pear

Since pears are among the few fruits that need not ripen on  the tree, you may need to check whether your pear is ripe and ready to eat.  (With the exception of Bartletts, pears tend not to change color when ripe.)  The trick to doing so is to “check the neck”: a pear’s neck that yields to a gentle squeeze between your fingers indicates that your pear is at its peak.  If it’s still hard, leave it out to ripen at room temperature, and if you’re in a hurry, try sticking it in a sealed brown paper bag to accelerate the ripening process.  If your pear is already ripe but you’re not quite ready to eat it, store it in the fridge to prevent it from over-ripening.  For more pear assessment and storage techniques, check out these tips from the folks at the Pear Bureau.

My Favorite Pear Recipes

  • Roasted Pear and Arugula Salad with Pomegranate-Chipotle Vinaigrette: an elegant and unusual salad course for holiday entertaining
  • Watercress, Frisee & Walnut Salad: a super-easy salad to make at home, featuring two fabulous superfoods (watercress and walnuts) that I always intend to eat more of, but have a hard time incorporating into my diet.  The sweetness of the pears tames the characteristic bite of the watercress beautifully.
  • Pear-and Cheese Pairings: Try adding pears to your upcoming holiday cheese platter for a little something different; the saltiness of cheese is a perfect complement to the sweetness of pears (see the embedded link for suggestions as to which cheeses go well with which pear varieties).  Alternatively, many pear salad recipes combine pears and blue-veined cheeses like Blue Cheese, Stilton or Gorgonzola.  While these more pungent cheese varieties are not my personal cup of tea, if they’re yours, then consider tossing them in to your next mixed salad for some seasonal variety.
  • Chocolate-dipped pears: I’ve had poached pears dipped in melted dark chocolate, and it’s a divine, relatively healthy winter dessert.  But since poaching pears is a little bit annoying, I gravitated towards this uber-simple recipe for chocolate-dipped fresh pears from Martha Stewart.  (You’ve heard of chocolate-dipped strawberries, after all; why not pears, too?)  Use an apple corer in lieu of a teaspoon to core the pear if you can; it’s much neater and easier.  And look for the smallest pears you can find if you want to serve them as individual desserts, otherwise, slice them and serve them on a fruit or dessert platter alongside other treats.
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