Roasting pear and fennel simultaneously concentrates and mellows their flavor. Use only perfectly ripe pears; the heat of the oven may soften underripe fruit but it cannot conjure sweetness.
In Advance: Roast the pears and fennel and set aside at room temperature for a couple of hours; rewarm in a warm oven or serve at room temperature. Make vinaigrette and set aside at room temperature for a couple of hours; whisk to recombine just before using.
Servings: 6 - 8
- For the salad
- 2 ripe bosc pears
- 2 medium bulbs fennel (about 1 pound)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- For the vinaigrette
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) walnut halves or chopped walnuts
- 8 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, preferably aged
- 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Small chunk pecorino or Parmesan cheese (optional)
For the salad: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Adjust 2 oven racks to the middle and lower-third positions. Line 2 baking sheets with foil.
Quarter the unpeeled pears lengthwise, remove and discard the cores and then, using a sharp knife or a mandoline, carve each quarter into slices about 1/4 inch thick.
Trim the stems from the fennel, cut out the cores and remove the tough outer layers. Slice the fennel lengthwise into thin, sickle-shaped slices or crosswise into round slices between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.
Place the pear slices on 1 sheet, drizzle with about 1/2 tablespoon oil, season lightly with salt and toss or turn to coat. Place the fennel on 1 sheet, drizzle with about 1/2 tablespoon oil, season lightly with salt and toss or turn to coat.
Roast the pear and fennel, turning the slices once, until they turn splotchy golden brown at the edges and across some of the surface, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness. The fennel will probably be done before the pear. Watch carefully; the slices go from golden to burnt in a matter of minutes. Set aside to cool slightly or to room temperature.
For the vinaigrette: While the pears and fennel are roasting, in a skillet over medium heat, heat the walnuts and oil, shaking the skillet occasionally, just until warmed, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the walnuts to a plate; reserve the oil. If desired, chop the walnuts. Set the walnuts and oil aside to cool.
Strain the cooled oil into a bowl. Add the vinegar and syrup to taste. If desired, season with salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble, divide the pears and fennel among individual plates, alternating slices. (You may not care to use all of the fennel.) Scatter some walnuts over the slices and drizzle with the vinaigrette. If desired, using a vegetable peeler or cheese slicer, shave the cheese into curls or ribbons and scatter over the top.
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