Fruit adds something special to savory dishes: a generous dose of seasonality. We can get so many fruits year-round, but when they’re at their in-season peak, there’s nothing like, say, citrus to spark a winter salad, grilled peaches to make a barbecue sauce sing of summer or pears to turn a bowl of pasta into something positively fall-ish.
The sweetness of pears is nuanced and subtle, much more so than any hit of sugar, maple or honey we might use to add balance or depth to a dish. But it’s plenty nonetheless. When I first tested this pasta recipe, which originally included a few tablespoons of maple syrup, I found it far too sweet. When I made the dish again without a drop of added sweetener, the Bosc pears stood up beautifully to the Gorgonzola, taking the salty, pungent edge off the cheese. An immodest amount of butter helped, too.
With the addition of walnuts and cranberries, this dish tastes like a well-balanced cheese plate — one that won’t let you forget what season it is.
PASTA WITH CARAMELIZED PEARS AND GORGONZOLA
Pears pair beautifully with the bite of creamy Gorgonzola; the two are commonly found together in many Italian dishes, as the cheese balances the sweetness with just the right amount of saltiness.
12 ounces rigatoni
1/3 cup walnut pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and each cut lengthwise into eight wedges
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, plus more for finishing (may substitute goat cheese)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Generously salt the water and add the pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, tender yet firm to the bite, according to the package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water before draining. Drain well.
While the pasta is cooking, set a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Immediately transfer them to a bowl or plate, so they don’t burn, and wipe out the skillet.
Set the skillet back over medium heat and add the butter. Once it melts, add the pears. Cook, turning the pears occasionally, until they are lightly browned and tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the pears to a separate plate, leaving behind as much liquid in the skillet as possible.
Add the broth to the skillet and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze any flavorful brown bits that may have accumulated. Add the Gorgonzola and bring to a simmer, whisking until the cheese melts and the sauce reduces slightly, about 5 minutes.
Add the pasta and ¼cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and toss to coat the pasta in the sauce. Add the remaining pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed, to loosen the pasta. The texture should be creamy and fluid, not pasty.
Divide among warmed plates, add the pears, walnuts and cranberries, and sprinkle with a little more Gorgonzola. Season generously with the pepper and serve.
Based on a recipe in “Simple, Elegant Pasta Dinners” by Nikki Marie.