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Like a lot of well-intentioned people with CSAs who end up wasting food, I've had the bad habit of buying, say, a beautiful bunch of kale at the farmers' market, only to wind up with a withered green mess in the bottom of my refrigerator a week later. Determined to change, I resolved to use the two-pound box of pears I couldn't resist buying, even if it meant baking at midnight.
For inspiration I turned to Molly O'Neill's massive One Big Table, which collects recipes from home cooks around the country (including a number from Chicago). O'Neill, a former food writer for the New York Times (and sister of former Yankees star Paul O'Neill), started the project in 2001, traveling 500,000 miles across the country and collecting more than 10,000 recipes, testing about a third of them before winnowing them down to about 600. I was intrigued by Alyce Byrchenough's recipe for a pear crostada with blue cheese streusel, which follows after the jump.
Birchenough's version calls for the artisanal blue cheese she makes with her husband at their Alabama creamery, Sweet Home Farm. I picked some up from Stamper Cheese at the Glenwood Sunday Market.
Inspired by Steve Albini's food blog, mariobatalivoice, where he's always inventing and improvising, I riffed some, subbing slivered almonds for chopped, throwing in some dried cranberries, and sprinkling cinnamon on the top. And now, having tried it, I'd cut down on the blue cheese if I were to to make it again. In reality, it's nowhere near as pretty as in Andrea Bauer's photo. But we used no tabletop special effects.
Alyce Birchenough's Pear Crostada With Blue Cheese Streusel
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/8 t kosher salt
8 T unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, beaten
Blue cheese streusel:
1/4 c plus 2 T all-purpose flour
1/4 c plus 2 T packed light brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
1/2 c sliced almonds
1 1/4 c crumbled blue cheese
1 1/2 lbs ripe pears, peeled, cored, and chopped into half-inch-thick slices
1 T fresh lemon juice
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 T unsalted butter, softened
(1) For the pastry dough: Lightly flour a sheet of parchment paper. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Form a well in the center and into add the butter and egg. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work into a soft, pliable dough. Form it into a four-inch disk, place it on the parchment, and roll into a ten-inch circle. Place the parchment and dough on a baking sheet, cover with plastic, and chill for at least ten minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
(2) For the streusel: In a medium bowl combine the flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and the almonds. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work 3/4 cup of the blue cheese until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
(3) For the filling: In a large bowl combine the pears, lemon juice, the remaining blue cheese, the black pepper, and the remaining brown sugar. Toss to coat.
(4) Sprinkle the dough with two-thirds of the streusel mixture, leaving a two-inch border around the edge. Top with the pear filling, followed by the remaining pear streusel. Fold the border up and around the filling and sprinkle the folded crust with a little brown sugar if desired.
(5) Bake until the pears are tender and the crust is golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.