It’s a weird time. I know there are a lot of uncertain things going on, but I’m talking about that weird time between the end of the summer and beginning of fall. You may still have some tomatoes to harvest and eat, but there is also fall produce to harvest. Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, greens, pears and many more. Pears may not seem like the quintessential fall crop, but they are very versatile. Pears can go into just about any dish from savory to sweet, and they are phenomenal when grilled. Like most things you put onto or over a fire, they brown. This intensifies the flavor, creates a great crust and allows you to take any dish and ”kick it up a notch.”
To peel or not to peel. If you are going to use the pear in a salad, sandwich or canape, I would leave the peel on. I find that just grilling on one cut side (just a halved pear) adds enough texture and flavor without the pear becoming complete mush. The peel can add some structure and help keep it together when slicing. Cobblers, crisps, compotes, ice creams and other baked goods will usually benefit from peeling. Cutting each side of a peeled pear a few times allows you to grill a little more surface area. This adds a little more flavor and texture to the dish. When the pear is cooked more (in a crisp, cobbler or gallete), you have more of a clean finish to the dish.
Once you have made the difficult decision whether to peel or not peel, you will need to cut the pear. Pears are a little different than apples; there is not an entire core that needs to be removed. Three parts need to be removed: the blossom end (opposite the stem), the center core and the stem. This leaves the pear’s signature look, with only a small amount of the center being removed. After peeling or not peeling, cut the pear in half from top to bottom. Use a paring knife cut a small V notch to remove the blossom end. Also scrape from the top of the pear just below the surface to find the stem about the size of a small string. Grip one side with the knife and the other with the thumb and pull very lightly until it detaches from the core. You will find this slightly easier on the side still containing the exterior stem, but make sure to check both sides. Use a small ice cream scoop, melon baller, or deep spoon scoop out the core in the middle of the pear. You are now ready to grill.
Some recipes toss the pears in oil, butter or sugar before grilling. While all of those have their advantages, they can also lead to some severe downfalls (the sugar can caramelize too fast and become bitter, stick to the grates on the grill or catch on fire). I like to clean the grill well (wire brush, ball of foil or wet rag) and oil it lightly. This allows the pears to stay on the grill for longer. This way the natural sugars brown, and the moisture starts to evaporate. You get more of a “pear flavor.” Grill on one or two sides to the desired doneness, then remove. Allow the pears to cool, then slice, arrange and use as desired.
I have a pear crisp recipe below and a handful of other uses that you can try. This is a technique that can be applied almost anywhere pears are used but could also be applied to a variety of other fruits and vegetables. As always, change it up, try some new things and make it yours.
- Tartine (open-faced sandwich) with brie and grilled pear
- Salad with grilled pears, bleu cheese and candied walnuts
- Grilled pear crisp
- Grilled pear ice cream, and thyme brown butter
- Grilled pear galette
- Grilled pear waffles (in batter and on top)
- Grilled pears on a cheese tray with fruit
- Grilled pear compote
- Grilled pear canape with goat cheese and chives
Grilled Pear Crisp
3 to 4 tablespoons sugar
2 ounces butter, sliced
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup brown sugar
6 ounces melted butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
Peel pears, cut in half and remove blossom end, stem and core on each side. Grill on each side until a crust forms and grill lines develop. Remove and cool on a cutting board. Spread a couple of slices of the butter for filling on the bottom of a 2- or 3-quart shallow pan or casserole dish. Slice the grilled pears and arrange them in the pan. Sprinkle the top with sugar, salt and pieces of butter. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients for the topping. Sprinkle the topping on top of the sliced pears. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown (rotate halfway through). Remove, cool and serve with ice cream, whipped cream, grilled pears or by itself.
Brook Harlan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center.