This is a pasta recipe that I need to rave about. It's bloody amazing. I ate it on the sofa, greedily, from a bowl balanced precariously on my knee, whilst watching Downton Abbey. The combination was almost too joyous for my delicate nervous system to handle.
It's one of the best things I've ever made. It's the perfect comfort food dinner. It's surprising and wonderful. It has the perfect balance of flavours and textures. It can be eaten with just a fork. Starchy carbs are involved. It has a cheese sauce. There is bacon. All these are good boxes to tick, right?
I can't tell you how this somewhat bizarre combination of ingredients came about. It was a whim, and a mishmash of things I know work together, added to some other things I know work together. It was also designed with the express intention of using up leftover pears: thanks to my lovely box delivered from Fruitdrop, who organise fruit delivery in London and the UK, I have a glut of fruit that is likely to turn mouldy before I have a chance to eat it all.
Pears are one tricky fruit - they are edible for about a day, but too early or too late and they are either rock-hard or floury in the middle. Should you feel they are ripening at an alarming rate, stick them in the fridge and use them in a recipe.
There are numerous uses for pears in my kitchen. I eat them pure and unadulterated, preferably when they're at the state where I need a plate to catch the syrupy juice. I stir them, chopped, into porridge along with jewel-like dried cranberries and liberal gratings of nutmeg. I fold them into a buttermilk pancake batter along with raisins and toasted pecans, to be smothered in maple syrup. I tuck them into a tin of roasting partridge, to be eaten alongside the crisp-skinned burnished birds. I toss them into a crisp salad with goat's cheese and walnuts, or caramelise them and stuff them into thin cocoa-enriched crêpes.
This is a totally new use for pears. Pears and pasta? You think it's weird. I know you do. Don't lie to me.
But pears go with blue cheese. The salty cheese and their sweetness work so well. Bacon goes with blue cheese - this is a classic. Blue cheese and pears both go with fennel, adding saltiness and sweetness respectively to balance the sharp, aniseed freshness of it. I just decided to combine all these things in one mad, luscious plateful.
I made a blue cheese sauce for the pasta, using a lovely new cheese called 'Yorkshire Blue'. I've just moved up to Yorkshire to start my PhD (it's terrifying and exciting simultaneously), and am a huge fan of all the wonderful local produce, so it just made sense to incorporate a nice Yorkshire cheese in this dish. You could, of course, use any blue cheese. This was stirred into hot penne pasta, where it clung silkily to the quills, glistening with salty promise. There were bits of crispy bacon. There were shards of soft fennel and pear, caramelised with a little brown sugar and olive oil in a hot pan. There were some walnuts, crumbled over the top for texture (because pears go with walnuts, and walnuts go with blue cheese and bacon - it's just logic, people).
I knew it would be good as soon as I stirred it all together, but I wasn't quite prepared for just how good.
This is a taste sensation. You get the creamy, salty blue cheese sauce, which is wonderful in itself. You add the salty bacon - always good. But then the whole rich, salty lot is balanced by the deliciously crisp, sweet fennel and the even sweeter buttery pear. If you think fruit and pasta is just plain wrong, I urge you to try this. The pear is so soft that it clings to the strands of pasta and is barely noticeable as fruit; instead, it lifts the whole dish to something memorably sublime.
This has gone straight to the top of my favourite pasta recipes, which is a difficult list to top. I'm pretty proud of it, and I would wholeheartedly beg you to give it a go, especially if you have a Fruitdrop fruit delivery and therefore some pears to use up. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Pasta with blue cheese, bacon, caramelised pear and fennel (serves 1, easily doubled):
- 100g penne pasta
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Half a medium bulb of fennel, shaved thinly on a mandolin
- 1 ripe but firm pear, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 2 rashers bacon (I used smoked), finely diced
- Half a glass of white wine
- 2 heaped tbsp creme fraiche
- 50g blue cheese, crumbled (I used Yorkshire Blue)
- Black pepper
- 1 tbsp chopped walnuts (optional)
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente, reserving a little of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the fennel. Cook for a couple of minutes on a medium heat until softened, then add the pear and brown sugar and cook over a high heat until the pear starts to caramelise. Remove and set aside.
Add the bacon to the hot pan and cook until starting to crisp up. Pour in the white wine and let it reduce by half, then add the creme fraiche. Cook gently until it starts to thicken, then add the blue cheese and black pepper.
When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the sauce in the pan with a teaspoonful of the cooking water. Return the pear and fennel to the pan, and the walnuts (if using). Toss together and serve immediately.