Even though the summer has ended for us and we are back in Rome, I’m still waking up in the morning thinking I’m in Todi. It takes me a good minute to figure out those birds I hear out the window aren’t fluttering around my fruit trees. They’re just the same old seagulls squawking away on our neighbor’s rooftop.
My fruit trees. It’s very hard not to be up in Umbria communing with our fruit trees. As I’ve mentioned our fig trees are in full swing and I’m sad to think of all the plump, ripe figgies falling to the ground or being eaten by those little birds. While we managed to bring back three kilos of figs last week, their pleasure was fleeting. They are so fragile that they never last for more than 48 hours (don’t worry, we managed to eat them all).
While our fig and cherry trees always produce big time, our other fruit trees – pear, apple, peach, plum, apricot, persimmon – are more persnickety. One year there is plenty, then the next year zip.
By the third week of August our pear tree was almost breaking in half, it was so heavy with fruit. We thought the pears – hard and green- still had at least two weeks to ripen. But we gamely scooped up some of those hard fruits from the ground and brought them inside where – over the course of two or three days – they ripened into the most delicious, juicy, tart and tasty pears we’ve ever had.
I’m also happy to report that pears – unlike figs – not only travel well, they store beautifully in the refrigerator.
The day before we left Todi I picked two dozen of the beauties. Once in Rome I carefully stored them in the fridge where they stay in suspended animation. Two days on the counter is all it takes to soften them just enough.
We’ve mostly been eating the pears straight up. But over the weekend I decided to use them in a salad. There is an old Italian saying “Al contadino non far sapere quant’e’ buono il cacio con le pere”. Don’t tell the farmer how good cheese and pears taste together. (or otherwise he would keep all the pears to himself!) Since I had a huge hunk of l’intruso from Caseificio Montecristo I decided to follow the old Italian saying.
Another impetus to this salad was the lovely gift of balsamic vinegars I received a few weeks ago from Sesto Senso, who I had met at Taste last May. I was drawn to their stand by their jewel like jars of mostarde, and was happy to discover their line of balsamics. They recently sent me a sampling of their wares, which I’ve been meaning to play around with for the last few weeks.
I have to admit right here that I’m not a huge fan of balsamic vinegar on salad greens. The sweet, dark taste is just too much for most salads. But where I do love balsamic is when it is paired with fruit and with cheese. So, a salad that was mostly pears and cheese, nestled atop a bed of greens, did seem to be begging for a a dark drizzle. Right?
A word about balsamic. Just stay away from the industrial icky stuff you find in most supermarkets. If it’s cheap, take my word for it, it’s just regular vinegar to which they’ve added caramel coloring and a bit of sugar. It’s icky yucky.
That said, you don’t have to shell out tons of money for true 12 year old Aceto Balsamico either. The great stuff you see in small bottles is splendid and worth every penny. But it’s not the stuff you should be using on salads of any sort. For this you’re better served by something that is officially called ‘condimento.’ This is a blend of younger balsamics, often with some regular wine vinegar as well.
All the good balsamic makers also produce condimento , and Sesto Senso included a lovely bottle of their fruity “Principe” which was just perfect for my salad. It had the richness of true barrel aged balsamic, but enough zing since it was young and lively.
Drizzled atop the salad it looked very pretty of course, but more importantly added just the right notes of sweet and sour that the pear and cheese needed.
Just don’t tell the farmer. Ok?
Pear and Cheese Salad
Although salads are usually served after a meal in Italy, I like this salad served as a light first course. I like presenting the salad on a large platter, but you can also prepare individual plates. Dress and assemble minutes before you serve this salad.
4 cups Romaine salad greens, washed and torn into small pieces.
2-3 juicy, but firm, pears
3/4 cup shaved hard cheese, like pamigiano
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar
Dress the salad greens with the oil and red wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange dressed greens on platter.
Peel, core and slice the pears into thin wedges. As you slice the pears, place them in a small bowl with juice from half a lemon. Keep them coated with lemon juice so they don’t brown.
Using a vegetable peeler make thin cheese shavings.
Arrange pears atop the greens. Top with cheese. Drizzle with balsamic and freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.