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So often Jenny, who speaks of herself in the third person from time to time, instructs all of you to make a certain dish, but maybe only if you have ingredient X laying around, or you have a hankering for protein Y.
Now, what I am telling you, is to race to the farmer’s market, buy some pears, then go home, tell your family and friends not to bother you or get in your way in any form during the roughly 40 minutes it takes to put together one of the most delicious things you’re going to eat this fall. (Unless they are offering to peel pears.)
I can’t quite remember how I came across Pear Soup with Pancetta and Blue Cheese, but I believe it was during a search for something to double for the neighbors. That involved a fair amount of the aforementioned pear peeling, but my husband agreed to do so, as long as I allowed him to play Johnny Cash while he did it.
Get that pancetta going. Someone is going to ask me if you can skip that to make this dish vegetarian. You can. But that little boost your onions will get from sautéing in that bit of fat is really good. Put the rest of your vegetables in there, and later, your stock, which hopefully is homemade. (I made mine with chicken necks during that freak October snowstorm, and it was indeed mildly flavored.)
Have you noticed how all your simmering steps are just a few minutes each? You love that right?
While the stock has this soup take form, make a salad, or send someone out for nice crusty bread. I pureed it all up with my immersion blender, which is truly the greatest kitchen invention ever -- except for parchment paper, whisks, and maybe the zester that guy made in his garage. Top with the best blue cheese you can find.
This soup has all the elements of a late fall dinner: it is creamy, warming, tastes of fruit but is not fruity, and bats it smoky eyes as a tangy finish on the spoon.
Plan to eat it all week.
Serves 4 - 6
5 ounces pancetta, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes (around 1/2 inch)
1 medium-small carrot, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon maple syrup
5 pears - I used bartlett - peeled, cored, and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 cups mildly flavored vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup creme fraiche
crumbled blue cheese (a creamy, potent raw milk one is best for serving
salt and ground white pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, fry the pancetta bits until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.
Pour off all but one Tablespoon of the fat in the pot (you don't want to use all of it because then it will overpower the pear), and add in the butter. Heat over medium until foaming. Then, stir in the onion, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft. You basically want the onion to sweat and soften without browning.
Stir in the garlic, potato, and carrot, cover again. Turn the heat to medium and cook another 10 minutes. Then, add in the maple syrup, pear, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, thyme, sage and nutmeg. Cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes to get the pear all coated with the syrup and other flavors.
Add in the broth, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook, covered, until the potatoes and pears are soft, about 15 minutes.
Blend in batches until smooth. Then return the blended soup to the pot and stir in the creme fraiche. Taste and add salt and white pepper to taste.
Serve with the pancetta bits and blue cheese for sprinkling on top.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.