2 pears, diced
150g plain flour,
plus extra for dusting
75g chilled unsalted butter,
chopped, plus 2 tbsp
500g leeks, trimmed
150g cream cheese
70g double cream
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
3 tbsp caster sugar
80g walnut pieces
sea salt and black pepper
oregano sprigs, to garnish
25cm round tart tin
In a large mixing bowl, stir the flour and chopped butter together, then rub the butter into the flour using fingertips and thumbs until it is the consistency of breadcrumbs. In a small pot, mix 1 egg with 1 tbsp of cold water, then stir into the flour mixture. Bring together into a dough, adding a little flour if the mixture is too wet or more water if it is too dry.
Knead for 1-2 mins until smooth, then wrap and leave to chill for 1 hr. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6 and grease the tart tin. Heat the 2 tbsp of butter in a pan and sauté the leeks for 2-3 mins until soft. Add the diced pears and cook for a further 2 mins. Season with salt and pepper, and allow to cool. In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, cream, remaining eggs and mustard. Dust a clean kitchen surface with flour, then roll the pastry out to fit the prepared tin. Line the tin with the pastry and trim the edges.
Fill the pastry with the leek and pear mixture, then pour over the egg mixture. Bake for 20-30 mins until set and golden. In the meantime, place the sugar in a frying pan on a low heat until the sugar changes to a liquid and becomes golden yellow. Stir in the walnuts, then transfer them to a sheet of baking paper and allow to cool before roughly chopping. Serve the tart with the caramelised walnuts and garnished with oregano.
The delicate taste of juicy pears from the orchard enhances both indulgent bakes and savoury dishes for the September table.
LIKE THE APPLE, to which it is related, the pear, Pyrus communis, is a member of the rose family. Its cultivation is thought to go back thousands of years. The Romans are known to have valued the fruit highly, so there is a possibility that they were responsible for introducing it to Britain. Pear trees are mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as being used to mark boundaries. Worcester’s coat of arms features three Black pears, apparently after the fruit was made an emblem of the city by Elizabeth I, who was said to have been particularly impressed by a Black pear tree she saw on a visit there.
Reddish-purple in colour, the Black pear was popular during medieval times. It was very hard and had to be cooked before eating, but it could be kept for several months over the winter, when there would have been few other fruits at hand. There are thousands of varieties today, but the most commonly available pears in the UK are Williams, Comice and Conference; all of which are suitable for cooking as well as eating fresh. The Williams pear dates from circa 1770 and was raised by a Berkshire schoolteacher. It is golden yellow in colour, sometimes with a tinge of red, and is sweet and juicy. There is also a variety known as Red William, which has a more crimson hue. Comice is a French variety, with a squat shape and yellow-green skin, occasionally with some red blushing on one side. Dating from the mid 19th century, Comice pears have a buttery texture, and are very juicy and sweet.
The Conference pear was developed by Thomas Francis Rivers, of Rivers Nursery in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, and is so-called due to an award it received at the International Pear Conference in 1885. It is a more elongated variety, with a light green colour and russet spots. It is considered a particularly good all-rounder, whether for eating fresh, cooking or preserving. Cooking with pears Pears are packed with fibre and also provide a good source of vitamins B6 and C, as well as potassium. They pair well with lighter meats as well as poultry, and, for desserts, they work beautifully with nuts, such as almonds and hazelnuts, or chocolate and dollops of fresh cream. Pears should have taut, unbruised and unblemished skins.
Once ripe, they bruise very easily, so it is best to buy them when they are still slightly underripe. They can be stored at room temperature until they ripen, at which stage they will yield when gently pressed and will feel quite weighty. Ripe pears can be refrigerated for one to two days if they are not going to be used immediately, but slightly underripe pears are generally best for cooking, as they keep their shape better. Skins can be removed with a vegetable peeler and the core with a sharp knife. The cut sides of the pear can be prevented from turning brown if they are not being used immediately, by brushing them with lemon juice.