The combination of red-wine poached pears, Rogue River blue cheese, and hazelnut salad has a delightful combination of textures–crispy, crunchy, tender, and creamy. Combined with a tangy vinaigrette, it’s a powerhouse of both sweet and savory.
I love the interplay between sweet and savory that fruit can add to salads. Here, fresh pears are poached in red wine to give them a gorgeous color and deeper flavor that’s delicious with the assertive blue cheese and toasty hazelnuts. This is definitely a company-worthy dish, although if you make the components ahead you can enjoy it even on a busy weeknight. Store any leftover vinaigrette in an airtight container in the fridge and use it within a couple of weeks.–Lisa Schroeder
LC Editor’s note
You’ll make four poached pears by following this recipe but only two are required for four salads. You can easily convert the extra pears to an impromptu dessert with a dollop of mascarpone whipped with a bit of heavy cream and powdered sugar. Toss on a few candied nuts for a finishing touch.
Poached Pear, Rogue River Blue Cheese, and Hazelnut Salad
For the poached pears
- 1 1/2 cups inexpensive dry red wine
- 1 1/2 cups water
- One 2-inch strip of lemon zest removed with a vegetable peeler
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 firm, ripe Bartlett or d’Anjou pears peeled with stems intact
For the salad
- 1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup hazelnut oil
- 1/3 cup canola oil (or 2/3 cup if not using hazelnut oil)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups mesclun greens washed and dried
- 2 poached pears
- 2 1/2 ounces Rogue Creamery® Oregon Blue or other blue cheese crumbled (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts lightly toasted, skins removed, and chopped
Make the poached pears
- Combine the red wine, water, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, cloves, and cinnamon stick in a narrow, deep saucepan that holds at least 3 quarts. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Stand the pears up in the liquid or lay them down so they are covered by the poaching liquid. Place a small heatproof plate on top to keep them submerged.
- Cover the pot and gently simmer the pears over low heat, turning them occasionally with tongs, until fork-tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pears to cool in the liquid. Remove the spices and lemon zest. Refrigerate the pears in the poaching liquid for up to 3 days. Ideally, let the pears come to room temperature before serving.
Make the salad
- In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard. Add the oils in a slow, steady stream while whisking vigorously. Continue whisking until all of the oil is incorporated and the dressing is thickened. Add the salt and pepper.
- In a large bowl, toss the mesclun with 2 1/2 tablespoons of the dressing and taste. Add more dressing, if needed. Divide the greens among four plates.
- Halve and core the poached pears. Cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices and evenly distribute on the greens. They also look nice sliced but held together by the upper part of the pear (called “fanning”). Sprinkle with cheese and hazelnuts, drizzle with reduced syrup if desired and serve.
Love NotesNut Oils Nut oils are a wonderful way to add depth to salads and tie the dressing into the rest of the ingredients. Hazelnut oil is available in the gourmet section of most grocery stores and through online gourmet retailers. Nut oils go rancid rather quickly, so buy them in small quantities and store in the refrigerator. The oil will solidify when chilled, so set the bottle out 10 minutes before using so it has a chance to liquefy again. Sniff your oil before using to ensure it hasn’t gone bad. If it smells soapy or acrid, or like linseed oil, throw it out. Toasting And Peeling Hazelnuts To toast the hazelnuts, heat the oven to 275°F (135°C). Spread the shelled hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the skins crack and the nuts turn light golden brown and smell fragrant. You can also roast them at 350°F (175°C) for 10 to 15 minutes, but check them periodically to be sure they don’t burn. Remove the nuts from oven and set aside to cool. Toasting hazelnuts loosens their skins considerably. To remove the skins from toasted hazelnuts, place them in a colander with large holes. Put the colander in the sink and use a clean dishtowel to rub the nuts so the skins peel off. Shake the colander occasionally to encourage the skins to fall into the sink. Another way to remove the skins is to put the warm nuts onto a clean dishtowel and gather it closed. Let the nuts steam for 4 to 5 minutes, then rub vigorously for 1 to 3 minutes. Rub longer to remove even more skin. For recipes, like a cake, that require all the skins to be removed, blanch the nuts for 1 minute in boiling water spiked with baking soda (1 tablespoon per cup of water). Then plunge the nuts into cold water; the skins will slip right off. In this case, you would roast them after they were peeled, at the lower temperature.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
While this salad isn’t that unusual or difficult, it results in a spectacular plate that tastes as good as it looks. The ruby-tinged skin of the pear is just gorgeous—this would be a great salad to serve at a special Christmas meal. The mixture of heady spices, tangy dressing, crunchy nuts, and the small hint of blue-cheese funk makes for a very satisfying combination of tastes and textures. Many other similar recipes use candied walnuts or pecans, and a fruity dressing (e.g. raspberry vinaigrette) that result in a candy-like salad, but this one’s use of hazelnuts and a red wine vinaigrette kept the dish balanced. Just lovely. One note of caution, though: If your pears are even slightly ripe, like mine were, watch the poaching time carefully. It’s easy to overpoach and get a soft, floppy pear. Still delicious, but I was glad I wasn’t serving them to company this time around.
I just happened to have the right-size saucepan to stand my pears in, but if you don’t, it’s no big deal. Instead of poaching them whole, you can also slice the pears in half and poaching them rounded-side-down in a wide and shallow saucepan. Also, a similar-sized saucepan lid isn’t necessary. Just cut a round of parchment to the correct size, poke a few holes to allow water to rise on top of the paper, and place over the pears. The parchment, plus a little bit of liquid over it, is sufficient to keep the pears submerged.
I decided to make this recipe after reading one of the reviews and realizing that I had all of the ingredients on-hand. What a delight this salad is! The combination of tastes and textures of the greens, blue cheese, and hazelnuts was refreshing—a perfect accompaniment for my grilled chicken and asparagus. My pears were slightly underripe, so they poached perfectly. I’d have liked a little more blue cheese, which I’ll add next time. This salad will certainly be on my menu often.
Originally published December 08, 2009