Driving in the sunshine today–I had the windows down and radio turned up–it felt an awful lot like the big thaw was on the way (granted, I was still wearing my big winter jacket). And then a few hours later the sun dipped behind the clouds and winter let us know she wasn’t quite ready to pack up and go. So it would seem that winter will be going out like a lion. Spring has been postponed; it’s #winterforever, if you’re into prefacing your thoughts with a pound sign. The snowbanks are shrinking, though we welcomed the first day of spring last weekend with a slushy snowfall. I can’t deny that I am eager to be able to run out the door without all the layers this winter weather requires, but I don’t mind the cold. It’s a little more conducive to sitting at my desk and getting work done. Or making rich desserts. Both of which I would like to count as being productive.(Or! Great weather to do fun Ottawa things: we stayed warm last week by ducking into the National Gallery, one of my favourite buildings in Ottawa (the M.C. Escher exhibit is fairly mind boggling) and running across the street to peek inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (it’s certainly not on the same level as the Notre-Dame, but it’s pretty and I couldn’t believe I had never been inside), before getting cozy for dinner at town, where I tried bone marrow for the first time and had a delicious cocktail made up of whiskey, nebbiolo and sherry– that’ll warm up your innards.).The recipe for this walnut soup is one of Thomas Keller’s recipes that was included in Michael Ruhlman’s (quintessential read for kitchen enthusiasts) The Soul of a Chef. This dessert soup might seem a little labour intensive, but overall it’s pretty straightforward. The result is a nutty, velvety cream, with just the right amount of fruitiness from the pear. It kind of tasted like drinking toasted marshmallows. Serve it in little espresso cups; a little goes a long way.
Thomas Keller’s Cream-of-Walnut Soup from Michael Ruhlman’s ‘The Soul of a Chef’
Makes eight small servings
For the walnut cream:
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) walnut halves
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
For the pear puree:
3/4 cup dry white wine, like sauvignon blanc
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 large pear
A few drops of walnut oil for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, then rub the nuts between the palms of your hands to remove any excess skin. Chop coarsely.
Combine the walnuts, cream, and milk in a heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan and add the bean. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to keep the liquid just below a simmer. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes to let flavors infuse. Strain the liquid into another saucepan.
Meanwhile, make the pear puree. Bring the wine to a boil in a small saucepan. Skim off any foam that rises to the top, then add the water and sugar. Return to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.
Peel and core the pear and cut it into 8 wedges; add to the wine mixture. Cut a circle of parchment paper just large enough to fit inside the saucepan and place it on top of the pears. Bring the mixture to a simmer and poach pears for about 15 minutes, or until there is no resistance when they’re tested with the tip of a sharp knife. Transfer pears and 1/3 cup poaching liquid to blender.
Reheat walnut cream. Puree the pears and then, with the blender running, pour in the hot walnut cream to combine. (The cream must be hot when it is added.)
Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a saucepan and reheat over low heat. Serve warm and sprinkle with a few drops of walnut oil.
Notes: We skipped putting a circle of parchment on top of the pears, and used a small lid. We also used canned pears as we didn’t have any ripe ones on hand — it all turned out fine! Also, I put the leftover walnuts (along with some reheated leftover soup) on my oatmeal the next morning for breakfast and it was delicious, although I’m not sure how Thomas Keller would feel about this use of his sophisticated dessert…stay warm, and enjoy!