Pan-seared Polenta with Balsamic Glazed Pears
Yesterday afternoon I was giving a friend a ride to the airport, and I offered him a few truffles. He asked me what was in them, and I listed the ingredients, which included cayenne pepper. (You, dear readers, will have to wait for Sugar High Friday on November 24th to find out all of the ingredients.)
He was extremely skeptical about pairing chocolate with cayenne pepper, but I assured him he has not lived until he tried chocolate with chilies. The heat from the cayenne opens up your taste buds and amplifies the impact of the chocolate. The lingering burn also rounds out the slightly earthy finish of the dark chocolate, which reminds you how lovely the chocolate was for several minutes after the last bit of gooey goodness has melted away. Alas, he forgot the truffles and will probably never get to try this batch, because I ate his on the way home.
After I waxed poetic about the chocolate for a few minutes, he pointed out that it was clear that I absolutely adore the combination of sweet and savory flavors. He was dead on in his assessment. The careful combination of sweet and savory is one of my very favorite things to do with food. I think it was my first experiences with Thai food that opened my eyes to the possibilities of using a balance of spicy, sweet, salty and acidic elements.
The way that I used the leftover polenta is a good example of it. The parmesan cheese in the polenta adds a slightly salty foil to the sweetness of the pears and the creamy texture balances out the tang of the vinegar. This would make a lovely brunch dish as it is and would be really spectacular served with crispy-skinned duck breast, especially if you added a few handfuls of arugula to the pears to wilt at the very end.
Polenta with Balsamic Glazed Pears
1 ripe firm-fleshed pear, coarsely chopped (I used a red anjou, but bosc pears would also work well)
1 heaping tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (can be omitted, but use a little extra black pepper)
2 tbs of good balsamic vinegar
1 tbs plus 1 tsp butter
In a medium non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat, sear two wedges of polenta in 1 tsp of butter until crispy on both sides and warmed through. Remove and cover with foil to keep warm. Melt the butter in the pan and toss the pears with the sugar and rosemary. Add the pears to the pan and alow to caramelize for about 3 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. (Be sure to keep your face away from the pan when adding the vinegar, because the initial fumes as the vinegar cooks off are quite unpleasant and will make your eyes tear.) Cook for another 2 minutes until pears are soft and the vinegar has reduced slightly. Spoon over the polenta and serve.