7 April 2013

Nashi Pear Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing

About a month ago on a roasting hot day I was driving back from a day in Healesville and stopped at one of those roadside fruit stalls, enticed by the promise of local stone fruit direct from the tree. I went straight past the apples and pears and was fondling the nectarines when the stall owner cut into a Nashi pear and offered me a slice. It was perfect - cold, crisp and unbelievably juicy. I left with a big bag of Nashi's and nothing else. 

After all the cold mornings last week yesterdays resurgence of hot weather, lasting right through the evening, made me think of those Nashi's again and a big autumn salad before the grey winter sets in. Nashi's are best eaten when the skin is a light yellow with just a hint of green, they are overripe when they get very yellow and no longer as crunchy. This salad is a wonderful combination of textures and flavours, sweet crisp Nashi, salty pancetta, crunchy croutons, fresh greens and creamy blue cheese. It hits all the flavour receptors. I had thought we would have leftovers but it was the perfect size for two of us by itself, it would be enough for four if you were having other dishes.

For the salad

2 Nashi pears
6 thin slices pancetta
150 - 200 g mixed salad leaves
1/3 baguette (to make croutons), stale bread is absolutely fine
olive oil
smokey paprika
1/3 cup walnut halves

For the Blue Cheese Dressing:

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (remove them from the hard stalks)
2 tablespoons sour cream or creme fraiche
40 g creamy blue cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Cut the Nashi pears into even round slices across the fruit, approximately 3 - 4 mm thick, I used a cookie cutter to then remove the seeds but you can also just cut them out in any shape you like.

Place the sliced Nashi in a bowl of acidulated water (either water with the juice of 1/2 a lemon or a couple tablespoons of white vinegar) to stop them from browning and set aside.

Place the pancetta slices under the grill for a very short time, just on one side so they are a little browned and crunchy at the edges - keep an eye on them as they burn very quickly, once cooked roughly tear them into thirds.

Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor, or use a kitchen mixer and 'whizz' them until smooth, pour into small serving jug.

To make the croutons slice the baguette into pieces approximately 1 cm thick, brush both sides lightly with olive oil and season one side only with salt and a good dusting of smokey paprika, place under the grill until golden brown, turn them over and put back under the grill until the second side is brown.

Layer the mixed greens, the least even looking slices of Nashi pears, the croutons and the crispy pancetta in a salad bowl.

Pile the best looking Nashi slices on top in the middle and sprinkle with the walnuts.

Drizzle with the blue cheese dressing and enjoy!

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