A taste for Portland and pears in wintertime

February 10, 2002|By Rob Kasper

I was "Portland dreaming" on a winter's day, fantasizing about eating my way through the Oregon city.

There were a couple of reasons for this. First of all, it was February in Baltimore, a time of year when a lot of folks spend a lot of time daydreaming about being somewhere else. Secondly, I had been in Oregon a few months ago and had enjoyed a delicious visit. Thirdly, an article about Portland in the January 2002 issue of Gourmet magazine was feeding the fires of my imagination. There, in full color splendor, were photos of the fat berries, plump seafood, golden breads, local mushrooms, and the lush wines and fruits that are part of the city's daily menu.

Finally as I read the recipes that accompanied the article, I got hungry recalling how those dishes -- such as roasted leeks with horseradish cream and pears stuffed with goat cheese -- tasted when I had sampled them.

My friend Janie Hibler, author of several books on Northwest cuisine including Wild About Game (Broadway Books, 1999), had developed the recipes that appeared in the magazine article. As luck would have it, she was testing them during the fall weekend my wife and I visited her and her husband, Gary.

Being a Gourmet guinea pig was pleasant duty. One Sunday night Gary fired up his barbecue cooker and demonstrated the art of cooking salmon on a plank of alder wood. The key points seemed to be, first get an amazing fresh piece of salmon -- which they have in abundance in Portland -- and two, do not be alarmed if your plank of alder wood turns black. The planked salmon, crisp yet moist, had a sweet almost buttery flavor rarely found in fish.

With it came some other stunners, slow-roasted leeks topped with a horseradish and sour cream, an intriguing pate made of lentils, and a refreshing salad made with pears stuffed with goat cheese.

One day last week I called Janie. She told me that the weather in Portland was rainy and cool. Fog was rolling in as Pacific fronts came East from the ocean and made their slow, moist journey toward the Cascades.

Winter, in other words, can be a dreary season in Portland, too. But to make myself feel better, and transport myself mentally to another place, one with pleasant taste memories, I made her pear salad with peppered goat cheese. It is a winning combination of fruit and cheese, of sweet and hot flavors. A salad that could get you started on a gloomy winter's day.

Janie Hibler's Pears Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

Serves 4

2 firm, ripe, Bosc or Comice pears (1 / 2 pound each)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 ounces pepper-coated soft, mild goat cheese at room temperature

1 ounce smoked hazelnuts, or substitute 4- 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped almonds

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 / 4 teaspoon salt

1 / 8 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces (8 cups) mesclun (mixed baby salad greens)

Core pears, working from bottom toward top and leaving fruit whole, then drizzle lemon juice inside cores. Stir together cheese and nuts, then divide between pears, stuffing into cores. Chill until firm. About 2 hours.

Halve each pear lengthwise. Cover halves tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Whisk vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl, adding oil in a steady stream until blended well. Just before serving, toss greens with half of dressing and divide among 4 salad plates.

Top with pear halves and drizzle pears with remaining dressing. Serve immediately.

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