The appeal of strawberries arrayed in chocolate for Valentine’s Day is hard to resist. Even when the actual berries are literally pale shadows of their early-summer selves. And their flavor is more of a sour counterpoint to the chocolate rather than sweet complement.
Better to wait a few more months for fresh berries, or so I told my preschool-age son last week at the grocery store when he plucked a clamshell of blueberries from a cooler. That’s easier said than done, however, when fruits of numerous varieties aren’t at their best.
The domestic citrus harvest is still on in some spots and for some varieties. But we’ve been eating them since before Christmas.
Apples and pears still are emerging from cold storage with most of their attributes intact. But I’ve also brought home not a few of the latter that never attain luscious ripeness at room temperature. The starkrimson variety, in particular, has disappointed, despite its red hue that all but promises a stellar eating experience.
For bland, underripe pears, my solution is simply to stew them with some sugar, lemon zest, almond extract and a few spices. This quick compote is a welcome counterpoint to sausages, roasted root vegetables and cheeses.
If I wanted to infuse the fruit with even more flavor, this quick bread would be the ticket. Redolent of ginger, nutmeg and fresh sage, it straddles sweet and savory and nicely bridges the seasons.
Pear, Sage and Hazelnut Bread
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 sage stalks, leaves stripped
1 cup chopped and toasted hazelnuts
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 2/3 cups plain all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups whole-wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup light brown sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3 medium ripe pears, peeled and cored, 2 grated and 1 sliced to decorate
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 340 F (see note). Butter and flour a 4-by-10-inch loaf pan.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat together with the sage leaves. You don’t want to burn butter; just heat it until it starts to brown and sage leaves turn a little crispy. Remove from heat but keep in a warm place so butter remains liquid.
In a large bowl, mix the hazelnuts with the remaining dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, break the eggs, add the grated pear, yogurt, vanilla extract and warm sage butter; whisk together well. Gradually add dry mixture to wet, stirring together well, to form a heavy, wet dough halfway between a thick cake batter and a bread dough. Add a little more flour if dough is looking a bit wet or a little extra yogurt (1 tablespoon at a time) if too dry.
Spoon dough into prepared loaf pan and smooth top of dough with back of a spoon. Arrange pear slices on top and sprinkle over a few teaspoons of brown sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Serve warm or at room temperature, spread with butter and alongside coffee. This toasts beautifully the next day, like banana bread, and will keep for up to a week in a sealed bag in the fridge.
Makes 8 servings.
NOTE: If you can’t set oven to 340 F, bake bread at 350 F for 60 to 65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once bread has been in oven for 60 minutes, keep checking it every 5 minutes until it is done.
— Recipe adapted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from “Nordic Light: Lighter, Everyday Eating From a Scandinavian Kitchen” by Simon Bajada, (Hardie Grant Books; August 2016, $39.99).