Pears have never really been a fruit I would associate with the word ‘delicate’.
This is mostly due to the fact that (until recent years) the variety most often on offer has been the packham pear – a lumpy, ungainly creature that would never win any beauty pageants.
However, as a finely sliced addition to this autumnal salad, the pear contributes both subtle sweetness and a wonderfully crisp texture to an undeniably elegant and delicate composition.
Roasted hazelnuts add earthly tones and of course everything, everything is improved – in food, as in life – by the addition of goat’s cheese.
Although I normally prefer richer chèvre curds, here I used goat’s cheese from Hindmarsh Valley Dairy, as it has a firmer texture like feta cheese and holds its shape better.
Make sure you use a fennel bulb that is not too large, as they lose their flavour and grow woodier the bigger they get.
pear & fennel salad with
hazelnuts & goat’s cheese
3-4 packham pears, depending on their size
1 medium-sized fennel bulb
2 handfuls of watercress, leaves picked
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, halved
150g semi-soft goat’s cheese
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp castor sugar
cracked black pepper
To make the vinaigrette, place all ingredients in a small glass jar and shake until emulsified and the sugar crystals have dissolved.
Taste and add more sugar or oil, depending on your piquancy preference. It’s best to make the vinaigrette first so that you have it on hand to dress the pears and prevent them from browning.
Remove the stalks and fronds from the fennel and cut the bulb into quarters. Using either a mandolin or a very sharp knife, finely slice the bulb and stalks into a bowl.
Using the same method, finely slice the pears into thin rounds from either side of the core, until all you have left is a disk of pear containing the seeds and stalk.
Place the pear slices and watercress in the bowl with the fennel, pour over the dressing and using your hands, gently toss everything together.
To serve, layer slices of pear, shards of fennel and watercress leaves into small towers on each plate.
Crumble the goat’s cheese over the top and scatter with roasted hazelnuts.