Following a career as a chef and restaurateur, Sam Mogannam took over Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1998 in the space his family had operated since 1964. Since then his Family of Businesses has grown to include Bi-Rite Creamery, which he opened with his wife Anne, Bi-Rite Catering, 18 Reasons (a non-profit community education space), Bi-Rite Farms, and a second Market in the Western Addition. Sam co-authored Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking & Creating Community Through Food, published by Ten Speed Press in 2011. Sam is also the proud father of two girls who love making sugo with him on the weekends.
In honor of one of our favorite Good Food Award Winners, we paired Avalanche Cheese Company’s Midnight Blue with toasted hazelnuts and fragrant pears for a warm and wintry salad.
These pears are infinitely versatile: you can eat them by themselves as a light first course; for a more substantial salad, serve them on a bed of lightly dressed arugula. They are even lovely as dessert. The best part is that you can grill the pears a few hours ahead of time and then assemble them just before serving.
For best results, use pears that are ripe but still relatively firm; the extra sturdiness makes them easier to manipulate on the grill. We like Bosc, Warren and Red Cascade varieties. If you can’t find hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts will work nicely, too.
Adapted from “Eat Good Food”, Ten Speed Press 2011 —Good Food Awards
ripe pears, cored and halved
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
balsamic vinegar (see Note)
crumbled Midnight blue cheese
toasted skinned hazelnuts, coarsely chopped (see Tip)
Prepare a medium-hot fire in a gas or charcoal grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, halve the pears, and brush a little oil over the cut sides.
When the grill is hot, put the pears cut side down on the grill. Let cook undisturbed for at least 2 minutes; then peek at one and check the browning (if it sticks, it means it hasn’t browned enough). Cook until the pears have nice dark grill marks, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Then flip them over and cook just until heated through and softened slightly, about 4 minutes longer. Remove the pears from the grill and set aside.
Put the vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a rapid simmer. Cook until it has reduced to about half its original volume and has become noticeably thicker, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Divide the cheese among the pears, mounding it slightly in the fruit’s cavity. Sprinkle the hazelnuts and basil over the cheese.
To finish, drizzle with the reduced vinegar and a bit more of the olive oil.
Tip: To toast hazelnuts, spread them evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and broil, shaking the pan frequently, until toasted and fragrant, about 5 minutes. (They toast from the inside out, so let your nose guide you rather than your eyes.) Remove the skins by putting the nuts on a clean kitchen towel, gathering the corners to make a bundle, and rubbing the bundle against the palm of your hand.
Note: Though it can be hard to find, Pedro Ximenez sherry vinegar would be spectacular here. It has a lovely fruity quality that’s a little brighter than balsamic but reduces to the same lovely syrupy consistency.