Let’s talk about unlikely pickles. As I child, I thought I didn’t like pickles because I detested the dilly slices of sourness that were stuffed into hamburgers and severed in spears on sandwich plates. I always liked my mother’s Bread and Butter Pickles, but I decided for some reason that they weren’t ‘real’ pickles, probably because they were much less ubiquitous than the stereotypical dill. With the help of various chefs and recipe sites, I eventually overcame this mental barrier and am now a fervent ambassador for the sweet pickle. Perhaps too fervent, as there were many jars of leftover pickled green beans, carrots, peppers, and cucumbers after I insisted on including a pickled vegetable tray when I catered my younger sister’s wedding. But even with my broadened horizons, I was still confining my pickling activity to produce from the vegetable garden.
Enter the appetizer brainstorming. Browsing through old restaurant photos, I was reminded of a ginger, pear, and goats cheese mixture that I had added brine to and called ‘pickled’. I had thought it delicious, but wasn’t necessarily sold on its final texture. And while this seemed like a good vegetarian option I didn’t want to serve just cheese on crackers, so I needed to find a way to separate the flavors back out into multiple components. Out of the three main ingredients, the pears seemed like the most natural stand alone, but much like bananas, apples, and avocados, pears are rarely seen on buffet tables, due to their tendencies to oxidize to an unappetizing shade of brown over time. Thinking of the old trick of dipping them in lemon juice to try to delay the process triggered the idea of just turning my pears into pickles. My only worry was that they might dissolve during the pickling process. I quickly searched the internet to see if anyone else had shared their experiences with the idea. I didn’t find a lot of recipes, but the two I did locate were reassuring. So I forged on, sketching a fluted rosemary cracker as a base, with a whipped goats cheese and ginger spread to go beneath the pears. I waffled on the garnish for quite a while, finally deciding to attempt some candied rosemary needles. Keep reading to see how that worked out….
Rosemary Sea Salt Crackers – adapted from Food 52
2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling
1 tsp fine salt
3 TBSP neutral flavored oil (I’ve been using grapeseed oil these days)
1/2 cup cold water
2 TBSP minced fresh rosemary
large grain sea salt, to garnish
Heat oven to 425 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix together the flour, fine salt, and minced rosemary, then slowly stir in the oil and water until a rough dough forms. Use your hands to gently press the dough into a ball. If the dough seems too dry for this step, add another splash of water. Press the dough into a disc, then wrap and chill for 15 minutes. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough as thinly as possible, ideally to 1/16″. Using a fluted 1 1/4″ round cutter, cut out as many crackers as possible. You can gather up the scraps and re-roll one more time, but after that it’s likely to be hard to work with and will yield tougher crackers. Sprinkle the top of each cracker with a pinch of large grain sea salt and bake for 8-10 minutes, until crisp and golden. Cool and store in an airtight container.
Gingered Goat Cheese –
12 oz fresh goat’s cheese
4-8 TBSP heavy whipping cream
2-4 TBSP fresh gingerroot, finely minced
This is more a method than a recipe and can be easily adjusted to suit the needs of your project and/or personal taste preferences. Whip the goat’s cheese, pinch of salt, and 4 TBSP of heavy cream with a whisk until soft and fluffy. If you would like a lighter end product, gradually add more cream, evaluating the texture as you go. Add the minced gingerrroot, again starting with the smaller quantity and increasing as needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least one day, to allow the flavors to meld together thoroughly. I find it to be a versatile addition to small bites, as you can see in the photo gallery of gingered goat cheese canape variants below. Click the individual images if you’re interested in learning more about their components!
Pickled Pears – adapted from Harry & David
4 firm and unbruised pears (I used Bartletts, slightly under-ripened pears will hold up better)
1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 TBSP pickling spice (or make your own)
3/4 tsp each ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice
Combine remaining ingredients in a small pot and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, use a small melon baller (1/2″-5/8″) to cut the pears into demi-spheres and place into two pint jars. Divide the cooled pickling liquid between the two jars, ensuring that the pears are completely covered. Place in the fridge for at least two hours and up to one week. I found that the uppermost layer of pears did experience a bit of browning still, but on the whole they held up much better than I expected.
Candied Rosemary –
I’m actually not going to give you a recipe for this one, because I don’t think I’ve conquered it yet. I made my initial batch too far in advance and opened the container to see black needles on the day of the event, which led to some quick adjustments to plans. It’s possible that I messed up the recipe, or it might just be an item that needs to be done a la minute. Even the day of making them, I wasn’t thrilled with the result – it didn’t seem like the sugar coating went on evenly or stuck particularly well. In any case the final garnish ended up being some fresh sprigs that I tossed with sugar water and covered with granulated sugar. Not quite candied and not very durable, but it worked out this time.
To assemble –
Spread each cracker with a dab of gingery goats cheese, trying to leave about 1/16″ border of cracker edge bare. If you have a large piping tip, it might work here, but I was nervous that the ginger chunks would clog up any attempts at piping. Place a piece of pickled pear in the center of each cracker and gently press two rosemary needles into the pear in an x shape.
When it was time to serve up my appetizers, these were the ones I was most concerned about. Pickles can be alienating, goat cheese has been known to cause controversy, and rosemary isn’t a shy herb. Happily, my concerns were unfounded and the guests seemed to embrace my pickled pear experiment with enthusiasm. Would you have tried one?