Cuisine Caramelized

A kiss of sweetness can wake up your tastebuds and satisfy the palate in a very pleasing way.

Here, Liz Barbour of the Creative Feast in Hollis offers us a few sugary notes in appetizers that will delight the tongue.

Caramelized Pears with Gorgonzola Crostini

4 ripe, but firm Bartlett pears
4 teaspoons of fresh tarragon, chopped
1/4 cup of unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
24 2-inch bread rounds, toasted

Working with one pear at a time (pears will turn brown if exposed too long to the air), stand the pears up and cut the pear off the core into four long pieces.

Starting about 1/2 inch from the top of each piece, slice the pears into 1/8-inch slices. Separate the sliced pear into sections of three slices each, leaving each section attached at the top. This will allow you to “fan” the pears in the pan while cooking.

Heat two tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until bubbling.

Fan the pears slightly and place them in the pan in a single layer. Cook until brown on one side about 1to 1-1/2 minutes. Gently turn pear fans over and repeat. Sprinkle a little chopped tarragon over the caramelized pears. Remove pear fans to a sheet pan. Continue as above to finish all four pears.

To serve, top each Crostini round with a pear fan and sprinkle a little Gorgonzola on top. Pop the pear Crostini under the broiler to just barely melt the Gorgonzola. Serve warm.

Note: The pears and Gorgonzola are also excellent served on top of roasted pork, chicken or with a salad of field greens.

Duck Breast with Caramelized Orange Sauce

Makes 6 Appetizer Servings
1/4 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 large shallot, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
3/4 cup dry sherry
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons of cold water
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
Zest of one orange

In a heavy saucepan blend the sugar and water and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, and swirl the pan by its handle to be sure that the sugar has dissolved and that the liquid is clear.

Cover the pan tightly and boil the syrup over moderately high heat — keep peeking, and boil until the bubbles are thick. Very soon the syrup will begin to color.

Continue swirling a few seconds more, until it is a light caramel brown, then remove from heat and continue swirling — it will darken more.

To the hot caramel, add the shallots, garlic and ginger. Put back on the heat and simmer for two minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat (keep your face back from the pan as the sauce will boil up a bit), add the sherry. Put the pan back on the heat and simmer for three minutes to reduce the liquid by half.

Add the chicken stock and orange juice concentrate and boil for two minutes.

Strain the sauce and return it to the saucepan and bring it back to a simmer.

Add the orange zest, rosemary and the cornstarch.

Lower heat and simmer for one minute or until the sauce thickens. Add pepper to taste.

Duck Breast:
2 pounds of duck breast
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
With a sharp paring knife, score four shallow slits into the fatty skin of the duck breast. Do not cut down to the flesh. Season both sides of the breast with salt and pepper.

Add the olive oil to a large over-proof skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the duck breasts skin side down and sear until the skin is brown and crispy, about five minutes. Turn the breast over and transfer the pan to the oven. Remove fat, if necessary. Cook for 6-8 minutes for medium rare. Remove the breast from the pan and set aside to rest for five minutes.

Slice each breast into 1/4-inch wide slices on the diagonal. Fan 3-4 pieces for each portion.

Place 1-2 tablespoons of sauce on each plate and top with the duck.