I have just published a version of the following recipe in the September issue of My St Margarets Magazine, but the online version is not yet available so I’m sharing it here too…
So – September’s here. The Indian summer begins to wane and as we roll into autumn I can’t entirely agree with Keats. The mists are here on Marble Hill Park, and yes the shelves of the grocers are groaning with the orchards’ fruitfulness, but this change of season is never a mellow time in my kitchen. At home the Shopkeeper will be turning the last of the tomato harvest [red and green] into Putney – not quite a pickle, not quite a chutney! There are preserves and fruit vinegars to be made with the final fruits of summer. Game returned to the table with a vengeance at the start of September. And as you read this farmers in the Swiss Alps are bringing their herds down from the high summer pastures so within a month the first of this season’s Vacherin will be on the shelves.
But it’s back to orchard for one of my early autumn favourites, ripe and juicy British pears. My neighbour’s pear tree should be bursting with fruit around now, and I’ll happily help myself to the piles of windfalls she leaves out on the gatepost. Pears also partner perfectly with many cheeses. The great champion of seasonal cuisine Valentine Warner makes a splendid savoury tart using pears and Stinking Bishop, a marriage which works so well because Charles Martell’s delightfully smelly cheese gains it’s aroma from being washed in pear perry. I’ve used this partnership to create a savoury bread and butter pudding which makes a tempting lunch or supper dish, or which can be made in individual ramekins for a dinner party starter – or indeed a cheesy dessert, or for that matter a fruity cheese course…!
Feeds two generously:
- 3 medium to thick slices of English Farmhouse white bread, preferably a day or two old, buttered
- 2 ripe but firm large pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1.5 cm chunks
- 180g Stinking Bishop cut into the same sized pieces as the pears
- 2 large eggs and 1 yolk
- 300ml single cream
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- A knob of butter
Preheat your oven to 180˚C and set the kettle boiling. Melt the knob of butter in a frying pan roomy enough to accommodate the pears in a single layer, and when it’s bubbling add them to the pan. Sauté the pears on a highish heat until they start to take on some colour and then set them aside to cool. Meanwhile whisk together the eggs, cream, nutmeg and cayenne pepper and season with generous pinches of sea salt and black pepper. Cut the buttered bread slices into quarters and arrange them, points uppermost, in overlapping layers in a gratin dish, tucking about three quarters of the pear and cheese between them as you go. Scatter the remaining pear and cheese across the top. Pour over the savoury custard and let everything sit and soak for a few minutes. Place the dish into a roasting tray and pour in boiling water to two thirds the way up the sides of the dish. Pop everything into the middle of the oven and give it 35 minutes. The top should be golden brown and crunchy. Dust with a little more cayenne if you like a spicy kick. Give it a few minutes to rest and serve warm, with a salad of your choice.
This is a versatile base from which to experiment – If you want a sweeter dish try using brioche or a hazelnut and raisin sourdough. If you want to turn the savoury dial up a notch then try potato and rosemary bread, or replace one of the pears with a sliced leek sautéed with a little thyme. For the individual ramekin versions slice the bread thinly, and cut the pear and cheese into slightly smaller dice. Cut out three circles of bread the same size as the ramekin for each. Start with a disc of buttered bread in the base, buttered side up, and add a layer of pear and cheese, then bread, another pear and cheese layer, and top with a final slice of bread. Pour in the custard in stages, allowing each addition to seep and soak through before the next. These will only need about 25 minutes cooking time.
[recipe entered in the ‘Simple and In Season’ event over at Fablicious Food!]