The time is ripe for pears: Taste: The fruit comes in several varieties and lends itself to any number of uses.

October 03, 1999|By Carol J.G. Ward | Carol J.G. Ward,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

From yellow and crimson Bartletts and green and red Anjous to russet long-necked Boscs and blush-cheeked Comices, pears are showing up on produce shelves in abundance.

Use these mellow-flavored gems to add sweetness to fall and winter menus, from appetizers to desserts.

Pears come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and each one has a distinctive character and texture. Flavors range from buttery and mild to sweet and juicy and even spicy and dense.

The aromatic Bosc is perfect for baking and cooking. Its flavor is not likely to be overwhelmed by spices such as cinnamon, clove or nutmeg. Other varieties, while performing well in pies, breads and cobblers, have more subtle flavors that can be subdued by all but a very light hand with seasonings.

Because of their juiciness, Comice pears are best served as a dessert pear or an appetizer with cheese. Often called the Christmas pear, Comice appears in gift boxes and baskets during the holidays.

Anjous, Bartletts and Seckels make great snacks for eating out of your hand or for adding flavor and color to salads and salsas.

Pair all types of pears with ginger, chocolate, wine, walnuts, almonds, caramel, cloves or cinnamon. They also provide a sweet counterpoint for the saltiness of Gorgonzola, feta, bacon, ham and prosciutto.

Pears can be used any way you would use an apple; try substituting them in recipes calling for apples. To incorporate pears into your fall menus, try these easy ideas:

Take advantage of Comice's affinity for cheese with this simple appetizer:

Halve and core four ripe Comice pears. Brush the cut surfaces lightly with diluted lemon juice.

Combine 4 ounces soft cream cheese and 1 ounce blue cheese until well-mixed. Form into 1-inch balls and roll in 1/2 cup minced or diced nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans) to coat.

Place cheese balls into center cavity of each pear half. Serve with additional cheeses such as Brie, Gouda, Gorgonzola or Cheddar.

To make a quick pear sauce, core and dice four fresh, ripe pears.

In a food processor bowl, combine pears with 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Process until smooth. Heat in a saucepan to serve warm, or chill.

If you have a little more time, try gingered pear honey.

Combine 6 large peeled and chopped pears, 3 cups sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger and 1 lemon thinly sliced in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes or until sugar dissolves.

Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, 40 minutes or until thickened and golden. Cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one month.

For an easy fruit side dish, saute sliced, cored, unpeeled pears in butter or margarine seasoned with powdered cloves, cinnamon and brown sugar until tender. Serve as a side dish with meat or poultry.

These savory roasted pears can be served warm as an appetizer with soft cheeses or as a side dish for roasted poultry or pork. Or refrigerate them and use in salads or with cold chicken.

Combine 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard, 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon ground sage.

Core and slice 2 pears. Brush them with vinegar and oil mixture, and place pears on an oiled rack in a broiler pan. Bake at 425 degrees 12-15 minutes, brushing once after 6 minutes.

For dessert, whole or halved pears are delicious poached in red or white wine, combined with sugar and/or honey, vanilla, cloves and stick cinnamon. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or over shortcake.

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