Being a cook or a writer or a photographer equally requires vision: a sense of what flavors result when certain tastes and textures come together, the right ingredients, and the finished dish in your mind’s eye. These combined start the salivary glands humming: alerting all of the senses, inspiring creativity in a tasty recipe, a great paragraph or a memorable photographic image.
Of the comments I receive about my blog writing or photography or even my recipes, the one I celebrate most is: “I was there with you, your descriptions make me feel like I was sharing the moment at your side.”
In the remarkable first paragraph of the last chapter of WINESBURG, OHIO, “Departure,” Sherwood Anderson’s words are like a paint brush on canvas as George Willard begins his life journey:
“YOUNG GEORGE WILLARD got out of bed at four in the morning. It was April and the young tree leaves were just coming out of their buds. The trees along the residence streets of Winesburg are maple and the seeds are winged. When the wind blows they whirl crazily about, filling the air and making a carpet underfoot.”
I am reminded, in parallel, of a dessert I created recently for my good friends Dan and Natasha. I wanted to create a dessert that had natural flavor, complex textures, naturally sweet fruity taste, and bittersweet overtones; a recipe that is delicate but substantial enough to be considered a dessert.
RECIPE: BAKED PEARS
stuffed with mango/kiwi/fresh basil/balsamic vinegar
2 ripe Bartlett pears
a soft mango: soft as a ripe peach
a soft kiwi fruit: not squishy, firm but soft.
5 fresh picked basil leaves (I have a small planter in which I am growing some herbs for cooking purposes, basil, parsley, and chives clustered together.)
4 teaspoons of your favorite balsamic vinegar
Halve the pears. Then tenderly scoop out the core, creating a hollow in the meat of each half, keeping the pear skin intact.
Preparing the mango. Removing the meat from a mango is challenging—because there is a large, flat single seed inside—but worth the effort. The goal is to release two intact halves from the seed. Lay the fruit on a either flat side. Insert the point of a paring knife at the stem until it meets the seed, draw the knife lengthwise around the circumference of the mango following the shape of the seed back to the starting point. Release the meat from the seed by reinserting the knife at starting point and draw the flat of the blade downward along the top, flat side of seed, until you reach the opposite end. Without removing the knife, rotate the fruit in your hand and continue until you return to the starting point. Draw the blade closer to the mid-line of the fruit and repeat until the half is released, intact, from the seed. Repeat on other half. You are going to chop the meat so don’t worry about neat cuts. Discard the seed, scoop out the fruit from the skin. Chop and slice the fruit into small pieces.
Select a soft Kiwi fruit: not squishy, firm but soft. Skin the fruit with a potato peeler. Cut in slices like orange wedges. Then chop them in 1/4 inch pieces. There is a white core. I chop that right up with the rest of the fruit.
Chop 3 of the five basil leaves coarsely in strips the across. Reserve the last 2 for garnish.
In a bowl mix the fruit: chopped mango in 1/4 inch chunks; chopped kiwi fruit; 4 finely chopped basil leaves, mix these together.
Preheat oven to to 350 degrees.
Place a tablespoon of the blended fruit mixture into each pear cavity. Reserving the balance of the blended fruit in the refrigerator until time to serve. Drizzle about a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar over the fruit mixture in each pear half.
Place the pear halves skin side down in about a half inch of water in a baking dish then slide it into the preheated oven.
Bake the dish for about 40 minutes testing the meat of the pear to be just beyond firm not too soft, el dente. Remove from the oven, allow the dish to cool a bit. Turn the oven down to warm. While pears cool, the oven will cool to warm too. Keep the dessert warm until serving.
Just prior to serving place a small section of a basil leaf cut to look like a small leaf, directly on top of the fruit in the cavity with the point hanging out over the pear meat. On top of this place about a teaspoon of refrigerated fruit mix saved in the mixing bowl. VOILA!