- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Fresh pears and golden squash are a to-die-for combination.

Pureed together and lightly infused with cinnamon, white wine and cream, they make an unusual soup that is slightly sweet, a little bit tart and deeply soothing. It’s easy to make and hard to believe that something that tastes this good can be born of such low-key effort.

The good and bad news about pears is their ability to ripen off the tree. Because of this talent, pears grown for commercial use are picked before they are ripe so they don’t bruise en route to market.

The voyage can take as much as a week, if you include handling by the retailer, scrutinizing by shoppers and, ultimately, the happy ending wherein the pear finds a good home. Throughout this journey, the pear is doing what it does so well: ripening off the tree.

So keep in mind that the pears you purchase are in the midst of this never-ending process and that, because it is generated internally, by the time you get the desired pliant response to the squeeze test, the pear has probably only a few good days left before it is rotten.

Thus, it is inevitable that we occasionally end up with overripe pears that just the day before seemed hard as baseballs. Don’t despair over your pear. You can still make beautiful use of them. Once you puree an overripe (but not yet rotten) pear into the delicate soup that follows, no one will ever guess it might have aged past its prime.

About the squash. Most forms of winter squash (including butternut, acorn, sugar and pumpkin) are interchangeable in most recipes. I prefer butternut for this soup, since butternut is easy to find and handle and tends to have a rich flavor and warm color. But go ahead and use another type, if that’s what you have on hand.

Serve golden pear soup with a platter of cheeses (a shard, a crumbly cheddar, a mild chevre and a blue), some thin toasts of sourdough walnut bread and a spinach salad with grainy mustard vinaigrette (recipe follows) for a wonderful fall meal that is subtle while at the same time delicious.

Golden pear soup

Canola oil

1½ pound butternut or any winter squash

3 medium pears (any kind but Bosc or Asian)

1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon dry white wine, divided

1½ teaspoons salt

½ cup half-and-half or milk, at room temperature

A few dashes white pepper

Creme fraiche, stirred until supple, optional

Sprigs of fresh mint, optional

Line a baking pan with sides with foil and slick it with a thin layer of canola oil. Split the squash in half lengthwise, remove and discard seeds (scissors make this easy), and place halves cut side down on prepared tray.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 35 minutes, or until fork-tender. Remove from oven, cool until comfortable to handle, then scoop out flesh and cut or break it into 2-inch pieces. Peel and core pears and cut into thin slices.

Place a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat for about a minute, then add 1 tablespoon butter. When it is melted, swirl to coat pan, then add pear slices and cinnamon. Saute for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently and adding remaining butter if pears start to stick to pan. Add 1/4 cup wine and turn down heat. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.

Add squash, 4 cups water and salt and bring to a boil. Immediately return heat to a simmer, cover pot and cook for another 5 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor or blender. (If pureed in food processor or blender, return puree to cooking pot when smooth.) Heat very gently and without further cooking. Drizzle in half-and-half or milk, adding the extra tablespoon of wine as it heats.

Season to taste with a small amount of white pepper and serve hot, topped with a touch of creme fraiche and a sprig of fresh mint, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

Grainy mustard vinaigrette

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1 tablespoon light honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Measure vinegar, mustard, honey and salt into a medium-small bowl. Whisk constantly while drizzling in oil. (Start with 4 tablespoons oil and add remaining 1 tablespoon if dressing is too thick.) Store in a tightly lidded jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes about ½ cup.


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