There are few things I find less appetizing than an overripe pear (except, perhaps, brown bananas, but even those are salvageable). From the cloying sweetness to a texture that manages to be mushy, mealy and gritty all at the same time, pears are one of few barely-past-its-prime pieces of produce that I’d prefer to just toss into the compost bin rather than find a creative way to save.
And yet, almost every time I purchase pears, I go overboard and, despite my best intentions, am unable to get through all of them in time. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I buy eight or three; the Law of Pears Ripening Faster than Kristen Can Eat Them inevitably kicks in.
Apparently the same law applies to free pears. Thanks to my friend and fellow food-lover Elaine‘s recommendation, Frog Hollow Farm sent me a six pack of Warren pears to sample. I frequent their urban farm stand at the Ferry Building, and I love pears, so I was excited to dig in.
I promptly devoured three of them, raw and unadorned.
I might have been generous enough to share the fourth pear with Jay. Or maybe I demolished that one too. I really can’t recall. My memory is as foggy on that matter as Bill Clinton’s was regarding extramarital affairs. But what I do remember is the pears’ sweet flavor and creamy texture – none of that graininess I usually try to ignore or mask in Bartlett pears.
Then I got married, ran away to Sonoma for half a week, and took couple days to come down from my newlywed love cloud and readjust to real life. Finally, I remembered the two remaining pears. Miraculously, they hadn’t completely rotted, or even started to mold. But they were getting mushy in spots. I promptly pureed them and strained the puree into a too-sweet-for-me gin cocktail.
A few weeks later, I spotted the Warren pears at my local Whole Foods, and scooped four of them into my basket. I savored one in its natural state immediately. Several spur of the moment social plans and riper-than-I’d-like-them pears later, my Autumn pear and persimmon salad dinner plan was squashed. I contemplated skipping dinner altogether and going straight to a pear tart dessert.
But San Francisco’s grey skies and chilly wind had me craving a hot bowl of soup. Pear soup?
How many times had I paired pear with blue cheese and pancetta in a salad or on a crostini? Yet I had never thought to save overripe pears by pureeing them into a savory soup featuring the same main ingredients. Thanks to a post by Jenny in the Kitchen at Food52, it suddenly became so obvious.
Potato and onions. Earthy thyme and sage. All sauteed in pancetta fat residue, pureed with sweet pears, and topped with crispy pancetta and blue cheese. The comforting, cold weather-appropriate version of one of my favorite salads.
For me, this savory-sweet soup is a keeper. I figure that’s a good thing, as Autumn is just beginning here in San Francisco, and I have no doubt that the Negligent Pear Keeper will strike again. Soon.
Savory Pear Soup with Crispy Pancetta and Blue Cheese (adapted from Jenny in the Kitchen)
I halved Jenny’s recipe, as there are only two mouths to feed here. I also used Greek yogurt instead of creme fraiche, although I would probably skip that step entirely in the future, as the soup is already quite creamy from the blended pear and potato and gets a tangy creaminess from the blue cheese crumbles.
2 oz. pancetta, diced into small cubes
1 1/2 tsp. butter
1/2 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 lb. potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes (I used 1/2 of a russet potato)
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
3 pears, peeled, cored and diced into 1-inch cubes
1/2 t. salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. sage
pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2 c. mild chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 c. Greek yogurt (optional)
In a medium soup pot over medium heat, fry pancetta until crispy. Remove pancetta, leaving 1 Tbsp. of the fat in the pot (not more; it will overpower the pear), and scoop onto paper towels to drain.
Add butter to the remaining pancetta fat in the pan. Once the butter starts to foam, add onions. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and potato, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring periodically. Add brown sugar, pear, salt, thyme, sage and nutmeg, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to coat the pear with the flavors. Add broth, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Then cover the pot, and reduce heat to low, simmering until potatoes and pears are soft, about 15 minutes.
Blend soup in pot with immersion blender; or allow soup to cool slightly, blend in a regular blender, and return to pot to reheat. Stir in the yogurt (if using), and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve hot, topped with crispy pancetta bits and blue cheese crumbles.
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