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Fig season ended suddenly, without any notice. One day our veg supplier arrived without them, apologetic — he could find none in the market. We had three dishes at the restaurant with figs but the season ends when it ends.
Something new had to go on the menu: we rummaged through the van of our veg guy for a good substitute and found a box of pears, small and shapely, light green with just the tiniest blush — not the juicy, drip-down-your-chin kind but the crisp, clean-tasting ones. Delicious.
We all know what to do when life gives you lemons but what do you do when things go (literally, for us) pear-shaped? We made this salad and were supremely happy with the result. The light poaching in saffron syrup gives the fruit a brilliant colour and elegantly matches the taste of it, the bitter leaves work so well with both, and nothing needs to be said about the combination of walnuts and pears — it’s a classic for a reason. The walnut tahini sauce is a tasty little number that can work well as a dip on its own — and make a magnificent condiment to serve with roast duck or goose.
I don’t know why the shape of a pear is the shape of things going wrong — maybe because it looks so human? It is such a beautiful fruit to look at and eat, and with a flavour so subtle and sophisticated, and a texture so unique, we should celebrate things that go pear-shaped, surely.
Pear and saffron salad with walnut tahini
|For the poached saffron pears (can be done a day in advance)|
|1||whole lemon, juice and skin|
|5||whole cardamom pods|
|Large pinch of saffron|
|For the walnut tahini|
|120g||roasted walnuts (8 mins in the oven at 180C)|
|Pinch chilli flakes|
|Juice from half a lemon|
|Generous pinch sea salt|
|2 tbs||walnut oil|
|For the salad|
|1||yellow endive, broken into leaves|
|1||small bag of rocket (or any other bitter leaves you fancy to fill a plate)|
|Pinch of chilli flakes|
|For the dressing|
|3 tbs||of the cooking liquid|
|2 tbs||walnut oil|
|Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper|
|1 tbs||cider vinegar|
- To poach the pears, place everything in a small pan and bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. As pears vary in softness, you will need to check whether they are ready by inserting the tip of a knife into the thickest part of the pear — ideally, there should be a wee bit of resistance. If they feel right, simply remove from the heat, cover the pot and allow to cool entirely. If the knife goes in with no resistance at all, carefully lift them out of the poaching liquid and into a bowl, and cool the liquid before popping them back in.
- To make the walnut tahini, start by setting aside a handful of walnuts for the end salad (about 20g-30g). Put the remaining walnuts and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until they become a thick, slightly chunky paste. Taste for seasoning — they may need a little more salt than you think.
- Once you are ready to assemble the salad, choose a lovely flat serving platter and cover with all the bitter leaves. Cut the pears into wedges, core and place on top of the salad leaves. Make a quick dressing by mixing all the ingredients together. Then sprinkle the retained walnuts all over, dollop the walnut tahini everywhere with a teaspoon, drizzle everything with the dressing and serve.
Photograph: Patricia Niven