Pearfect!

pears with candied nuts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

With almost 3,000 varieties of pears to consider, we’re going to stay focused on the most popular and truly homegrown. The most common varieties found at our local farmers’ markets include Aurora, Anjou, Comice, Seckel, Highland, Asian, Bartlett, Red Bartlett, and Bosc.

Montgomery Place Orchards harvests an unimaginable variety of both apples and pears. While you won’t find their fruit at local farmers’ markets, a trip to their own stunning farmstand at the corner of Routes 199 and 9-G in Red Hook will have you leaving with more than a bag of dazzling pears.

Through thousands of years, pears have been grafted, cherished, and celebrated as “gifts from God,” “butter fruit,” and symbols of immortality. Today Washington and Oregon are the leading pear growing states, but the Hudson Valley makes a healthy contribution to establishing the U.S. as the leading pear producer worldwide. The two varieties that best resist insects, mites, and fungus in our area are Bosc and Bartlett.

Pears at their best are crisp, juicy, floral, and seductive. Some fruit tell you exactly when they’re ready to detach from their mother plant. Pears are a perfect example—an easy tug, they’re ripe and ready; a lot of twisting and wrestling, better wait a few more days or even a week.

Once off the tree, look for fruit that is not rock hard but where a gentle squeeze provides a little spring back, especially at the top neck. With so many varieties of different shapes and colors, a good rule of thumb is to look for a slight lightening from its original hue as a sign of ripeness. Imperfections

should not be seen as signaling poor quality. Orchard fruits, especially when organically grown, show dings, dents, and blemishes from weather, bug bites, and other uncontrollable forces. Think of these scars and scrapes as signs of character, and just work around them.

Pears have so many baking and culinary uses. Their sweet flesh is an extraordinary addition to salads with slightly bitter greens like arugula, spinach, and mizuna and salty cheeses such as blue, gorgonzola, feta, goat cheese, or Manchego. Toss in some toasted nuts, and even some tart cranberries or pomegranate seeds, and you’re talking a fall salad. The most popular Skizza™ (thin crusted pizza) at my restaurant is the Bianca – house made fig jam, Coach Farm goat cheese, shaved pears, Sky Farm arugula and a drizzle of house-infused truffle oil. The paper thin pear slices makes the pie, and I’d have plenty of people to reckon with if I ever took the Bianca off the menu.

Aside from salads and the obvious tarts, galettes, quick breads, and cakes, pears can lend seductive elegance to cocktails and especially sauces. A reduction of a deep stock, aged balsamic vinegar, chopped pears, and perhaps a smidge of ginger can make your roasted holiday duck a whole new experience.

Some tips for cooking and interpreting amounts in recipes:

2 medium pears = approximately 1 cup sliced pears.
4 medium pears = approximately 1 cup pureed pear.
3 medium pears = approximately 1 pound of pears

Nutritional notes: With their skin on, which is perfectly edible, pears rank among the highest fiber fruits. It’s also the type of fiber that helps attract water, which slows digestion.  This helps delays the emptying of your stomach and makes you feel full, which helps control weight. Slower stomach emptying may also affect blood sugar levels and have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, potentially helping control diabetes. Soluble fiber can also help lower LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol by interfering with the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Pears, like apples, also contain a whole spectrum of flavonoids, a large grouping of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Roasted Pears with Candied Spiced Nuts

 This is an easy “in season” dessert for entertaining or for every day. If you don’t have time to candy nuts, they can easily be purchased at most supermarkets, and most certainly at the wonderful Adam’s Marketplace (locations throughout the Hudson Valley).

Makes 4 servings

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter
4 firm but ripe pears, halved and cored, skin on
¼ cup packed cup light brown sugar
¼ cup local pure maple syrup (Fitting Creek Farm in Ghent, or Crown Maple in Dover Plains are noteworthy local producers)
4 cinnamon sticks, halved
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 cup Candied Spiced Nuts (recipe below)
Ice cream (vanilla or hazelnut) or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, melt the butter then add both the brown sugar and maple syrup. Add the cinnamon sticks and allspice, and stir to blend. Transfer the butter mixture to a roasting pan just large enough to fit pear halves in one layer. Place the pear halves face down in the pan, shaking a bit to coat flesh side with butter/maple/brown sugar/spice mixture.  Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until pears are tender.  Using tongs, flip pears so that they are cut side up and spoon pan sauce over them.  Return to oven about 5 more minutes, or until they are golden and bubbling.  Remove, let cool slightly, top with candied nuts and a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

 Candied Spiced Nuts

I love these crunchy, slightly sweet and spicy nuts sprinkled over salads, enlivening cheese plates, and topping sweet orchard fruit desserts. Extras can be enjoyed on antipasti plates or with an evening cocktail.

Makes 4½ cups (18 servings)

1 egg white
½ pound shelled walnut halves
½ pound shelled almonds
½ cup sugar (preferably superfine)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon allspice
Pinch cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 250˚F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white and 1 tablespoon water until frothy. Add nuts and stir to coat them completely. Transfer nuts to a strainer or sieve and allow to drain for about 5 minutes.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, coriander, and cayenne in a large plastic bag and shake vigorously to blend. Add half the nuts to the bag and shake to coat thoroughly. Remove and place nuts on a large baking pan. Repeat with the remaining nuts and add to pan. Shake pan to distribute nuts evenly. Bake for 15 minutes, then gently stir, smoothing them back into a single layer. Lower oven temperature to 200˚F and bake until nuts are caramelized and crisp, about 45 minutes. Midway through baking, rotate pan to ensure even browning.

Allow nuts to cool completely. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Adapted from Hudson Valley Mediterranean: The Gigi Good Food Cookbook (HarperCollins/Pensiero 2009)

Gigi’s “Enlightened Eggplant Parmesan” Recipe

Gigi Eggplant Parmesan

July’s hot and humid weather has tapered off into gorgeous August days, warm, sunny and just hot enough for Hudson Valley summer gardens to thrive. There are buckets of ripening tomatoes, zucchini, beans, melons and a Gigi favorite – eggplant. Eggplants are gorgeous plants with lovely leaves, delicate flowers and elegant vegetables ranging from a nearly black purple to a glowing white streaked with rose. This ‘food of the sun’ flourishes here, a living link to the great number of Italian immigrants who farmed this land throughout the last century making this ‘foreign’ food beloved and common. The last thirty years has seen the growth of Asian eggplant varieties, long and lighter in color with fewer seeds and perfectly amenable to stir fries and braises.

EggplantAt Gigi, we are loyal to the Italian varieties since we are all fanatics about eggplant Parmesan. In fact, there are few dishes the staff and I enjoy as much as a “plate of parm”.  This wasn’t always the case. It took a trip to Sicily to convince me to reconsider Eggplant Parmesan, a typically heavy dish relying overly on breading and cheese. But the Sicilian treatment uses a lighter hand and results in a deeply satisfying eggplant flavor. A perfect dish for the season. Salute! – Laura

Enlightened Eggplant Parmesan – Makes 8 Servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1¼ Cups Fresh Bread Crumbs
  • ¼ Cup Finely-Grated Fresh Parmesan Cheese
  • 4 Medium Eggplants – About 3 Pounds – cut Lengthwise into ¼- to ½-Inch-Thick Slices
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Plus Additional for Brushing the Dish
  • Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Cups Gigi Pomodoro Sauce, or Your Homemade Recipe or Favorite Brand
  • 1¼ Cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1¼ Cups Shaved Parmesan or Grana Padano Cheese

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat the broiler.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan. Set aside.

Brush the eggplant on both sides with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange them in a single layer on 2 liberally greased baking sheets (non-stick is best). Broil in batches, until the slices are tender, lightly browned, and softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Spoon ½ cup of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a lightly oiled 9x13x2-inch baking dish. Layer one third of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping them slightly. Spoon ½ cup of sauce over the eggplant, spreading it evenly, and sprinkle with ½ cup each of the mozzarella and the shaved Parmesan. Top the cheese with another one third of the eggplant slices, another ½ cup of sauce, and ½ cup of each cheese. Top the cheese with the remaining one third of eggplant slices, ½ cup of sauce, and ¼ cup of each cheese.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in middle of the oven until sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over top, and continue to bake until the crumbs are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy as an appetizer, side dish, or entrée.

Maple Pumpkin Polenta

Yesterday, Gigi Hudson Valley participated in a great event in support of Olana, the historic estate just outside Hudson. The fundraiser was entitled “Eat for Art’s Sake.” Each participating Hudson Valley eatery who volunteered their services, created a dish to be sampled at the gala, inspired by one of Frederick Church’s paintings (the artist who also built Olana in 1870.)

Gigi’s owner, Laura Pensiero,  chose “Clouds Over Olana”.

Inspired by the painting, Gigi Hudson Valley presented a Vegetable Hash over Maple Pumpkin Polenta. While the dish was not a literal interpretation of the painting, it served as inspiration, and it allowed Gigi HV to take advantage of great local and seasonal ingredients! As Laura noted, “It’s a very colorful plate that went with the back drop of the setting and  looked like a fall day. What we were trying to do was grab the season and bring that into the food, which this painting seemed to represent best.  We used Hudson Valley ingredients: New York State maple syrup and polenta from Wild Hive Farm and Store, in Clinton Corners,  with pumpkin from Mead Orchards, in Tivoli, as well as carrots, turnips. squash, and celery.”

We thought we would share the recipe for the Maple Pumpkin Polenta, enjoy!

Maple Pumpkin Polenta

This is among the most popular side dishes during the fall and winter months at Gigi Trattoria. The addition of pumpkin and maple syrup adds a seasonal and a festive hue to polenta. We buy ground cornmeal from Wild Hive Farm in nearby Clinton Corners. Any coarse grain cornmeal can substitute. Enjoy the slightly sweet notes balanced by a little spice from cayenne pepper.

Serves 4

1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ cups finely ground yellow cornmeal
1½ cups pumpkin puree (boiled,drained,and pureed or 100 percent natural canned pumpkin)
⅓ cup pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon butter

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and the olive oil, reduce the heat to simmer, and gradually whisk in the cornmeal, a small amount at a time, to prevent clumping. Reduce the heat to low and cook the polenta, stirring often, until tender and it is pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and cayenne and cook another minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano and the butter. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve warm.

Nutrition: Polenta (cornmeal) is a whole grain. The pumpkin contributes enough beta-carotene to supply about 25 percent of your daily needs of vitamin A.

Note: This recipe can be found in the Gigi Good Food Cookbook, Hudson Valley Mediterranean.

Kale Two Ways

Tuscan kale, also known as Lacinato kale, Tuscan cabbage, Italian kale, Dinosaur kale, cavolo nero, and black kale, thrives during all three growing seasons of the Hudson Valley. It’s especially available during these steamy summer months, and we’re taking full advantage….  We present it to you direct from Migliorelli Farms in our retail cases at Gigi Market and throughout our menus in both locations.  I thought I’d give you two different approaches to enjoying it; cooked and raw.

Cooked Kale

Gigi ‘LACINATO’: Sautéed Kale with Towne & Country Sausage

This is a new lunch and dinner side at the Trattoria in Rhinebeck, and part of our new summer menu.  Enjoy this sautéed Italian black kale with Towne and Country spicy sausage or simply with garlic and Gigi extra-virgin olive oil.

Makes 2-3 servings

1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 ounces (about 2 links) Towne and Country spicy sausage, sliced or crumbled
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ pounds Tuscan kale, stems removed and leaves chopped, then rinsed and spun
Salt
2 tablespoons white wine
1 cup water

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the shallots, sausage, and red pepper flakes, and cook until the shallots and sausage just begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and toss to combine. Stir in the kale and season with salt. Cook the kale, tossing or stirring to evenly wilt, then add the white wine and cook until fully evaporated. Add the water and cook until the kale is tender and the pan is almost dry, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy hot or at room temperature.

Click here to watch a brief video of this dish being made.

Raw Kale

Massaged Kale Salad

My friends (and Gigi devotees :)) Peter Amendola and Jerry Paglieri, shared this “massaged” raw kale salad with me, saying they often make it when entertaining and receive consistent raves from their guests. The acidity in the lemon juice “cooks” the thinly sliced kale making it tender and flavorful. Jerry became a fan when first trying Aati Sequeira’s recipe; as a confident cook he fined tuned it to his tastes and made it his own.

Makes 4 servings

1 large bunch Tuscan kale stalks removed and discarded, leaves thinly sliced
fresh juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey
freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe peaches or nectarines, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

In large serving bowl, add the kale, half of lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and a little salt. Massage until the kale starts to soften and wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside while you make the dressing.

In a small bowl, whisk remaining lemon juice with the maple syrup and a healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper. Stream the olive oil into the bowl while whisking.

Pour the dressing over the kale, and add the peaches and pumpkin seeds. Toss and serve.

Enjoy!

-Laura

Asparagus Pesto Linguine

Asparagus is one of the other delicious favorites that is in season right now. Along with strawberries, you can head to Greig Farm in Red Hook and pick your own. It doesn’t get fresher than that!

At Gigi Trattoria and Gigi Market we use the fresh herbs, leaves, and vegetables of spring, summer, and fall to make delicious pestos that can be tossed with our hand-made pastas. Fresh asparagus makes a wonderful base for a fresh pesto.

Asparagus Pesto Linguine

Makes 4 servings

1 pound asparagus spears
3 garlic cloves,chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup olive oil
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese,plus more for topping
3 tablespoons chopped fresh falt-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 pounds dry linguine or spaghetti

Snap the tough ends off the asparagus. Remove the tips; reserve the tips and stems separately.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Season with salt. Add the asparagus stems and cook until they’re just tender,3 to 5 minutes,depending on thickness. Using tongs,transfer the asparagus to a large bowl,cover with cold water,and then drain. Slice the stems into ½-inch long segments and place in the work bowl of a food processor.

Add the tips to the boiling salted water; when tender,about 2 minutes,fish them out with a strainer or slotted spoon. Place the tips in a small bowl,cover with cold water,and drain. Set aside. Keep the cooking water at a low boil.

Add the garlic,mustard and ¼ cup of the olive oil to the food processor with the asparagus stems. Pulse to combine. Add the Parmesan,parsley,and pine nuts. With the motor running,drizzle the remaining olive oil through the feed tube of the processor. Season with salt and pepper and the lemon juice to perk up flavors. Pulse again to combine. If you want a thinner consistency,a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water can be added later.

Return the cooking water to a full boil and add the linguine. Cook,stirring occasionally,until done,8 to 12 minutes; check the package instructions. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water before draining. Add the drained pasta back to the pot and add the pesto and reserved asparagus tips. Cook,stirring,over medium-high heat until hot and well combined,about 1 minute. Add a spoonful of the pasta water,if necessary,to loosen the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and top with grated Parmesan.

Serving suggestions: Enjoy the pasta immediately.

Variations:

  • Brush whole fish,steaks or filets with the pesto as it grills or roasts.
  • Marinate asparagus spears in the pesto before roasting or grilling.

Leftovers: Use pesto for up to 4 days.

Nutrition: A typical serving of asparagus provides more than 50 percent of the Daily Value for folate, a B vitamin that helps in the duplication of healthy cells and protects against heart disease. It’s also a rich source of antioxidants, including vitamin C and vitamin A, and phytochemicals.

Economy: $$ Purchased in season, asparagus is tasty and inexpensive.

Note: This recipe can be found in the Gigi Good Food Cookbook, Hudson Valley Mediterranean.

Cool Sauce for a Hot Night

Gigi HV is very proud to be a sponsor of the Hudson Valley Engagement  cocktail party happening this weekend. The event, benefiting the Empire State Pride Agenda, will be taking place at the beautiful home of Harlan Bratcher and Toby Usnik in Upper Red Hook.

We’re even bringing our “Stuff It” truck to the benefit!  The “Stuff It” truck is mobile goodness in the form of a food truck. We load it up with healthy and delicious local ingredients and let you create your own perfect, customized “stuffed” pita sandwich.

You pick your pita, your protein, your sauce,  your veggies and you enjoy!

One of the favorite sauces to drizzle over your “Stuff it” pita is always our “Cool Avocado” sauce. It is actually a variation on a dressing I created for the Just Salad Chain.  I thought I would share the recipe with you. It is not only great on sandwiches. Toss it with fresh local salad greens or use to garnish or sauce seafood off the grill.

Enjoy!

-Laura

 

Cool Avocado Sauce:

Makes 2 cups

2 ripe California avocados (each about 1/2 pound)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice, or to taste
½ small red onion, roughly chopped
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp. low-fat mayonnasie
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
Tabasco to taste
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon cayenne (depending on desired heat)
small handful of cilantro or Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup water, less if needed
Salt to season

Peel and pit the avocados, then cut into large pieces. In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients except for the water and salt. Pulse to combine. Add half of the water. With the motor running, add just enough additional water to achieve creamy “drizzle” consistency. Season with salt. Chill and serve.