Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Love-Sick Boy and Moldy Cheese!

Roquefort cheese, a sheep milk blue cheese from the south of France, is considered one of the world's finest cheeses. Roquefort was first mentioned by Pliny the Elder (Roman author, naturalist, and philosopher) in 79 A.D., and is made exclusively from the milk of the red Lacaune, the Manech and the Basco-Bearnaise breeds of sheep that graze on the plateau of Rouergue, Causses in the Aveyron. By European law, the cheese must be aged in the natural Combalou caves of Rouquefort-sur-Soulzon. Legend has it that the cheese was discovered by a love-sick boy, who abandoned his lunch of bread and cheese in the caves, to meet a beautiful girl he saw in the distance. After returning to the caves a few months later, he found his plain cheese had transformed into Roquefort. Of course it would be a boy who would taste moldy cheese after months of rotting in a cave!

Roquefort is wonderful paired with fruit, nuts, and honey. Try this "Roasted Pear Salad," from My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking, by John Besh. This spectacular salad made with roasted pears, blue cheese, endive, honey, and pecans is my new winter favorite! It is so delicious, everyone goes crazy for it! This salad will definitely be gracing my Christmas table!

Roasted Pear Salad

Serves 8

For the pears
4 ripe pears, halved and cored
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar

For the vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pecan oil (walnut oil works well, too!)
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Creole mustard (I use regular mustard, e.g., Grey Poupon.)
1 shallot, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad
5 heads Belgian endive, cored and leaves separated
2 large handfuls mixed bitter green leaves
2 cups blue cheese, crumbled into chunks (I prefer Roquefort!)
1/2 cup pecans, toasted (walnuts would work well, too.)

For the pears
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, drizzle the pears with the olive oil, sprinkle with the sugar and salt, and toss to coat well. Transfer the pears to a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. (It took my pears 20 minutes.) Allow the pears to cool. Set aside.

For the vinaigrette
Whisk together the olive oil, pecan oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, and shallots in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the salad
Combine the endive leaves and bitter greens in a large serving bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss to coat well. Wait until just before serving to top with the pears, blue cheese, and pecans.

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