Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #153

Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce Recipe

Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce Recipe, Spotlight on Pears, How to Avoid Curdling Eggs and Protect Against the Biggest Heart Disease Risk Factors, Go Green to Clean

If you thought olive oil was only for savory dishes, you’ll want to try this delectable dessert right away! Roasting brings out even more of the pears’ natural sweetness and the custard is as creamy as the best pudding—and both are enhanced with olive oil. This issue’s research topics have to do with preventing health issues—avoiding toxic VOCs in cleaning products to protect your lungs and the greater environment and preventing or mitigating the five most damaging threats to heart health. The good news: We each have it within our control to make lifestyle changes that make a significant difference.

Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce

  • Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce Recipe Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce

    Separately, roasted pears and rich vanilla custard are delicious. Together, they’re simply sublime. This dish can be served warm, with the pears just out of the oven and the custard right off the stovetop, or both can be chilled and served cold—the sauce will get thicker in the fridge.


    For the pears:

    • 4 pears, such as Anjou, Bosc, or Concorde, ripe but still firm
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1/2 cup water

    For the custard sauce:

    • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • Pinch of sea salt
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 2 whole eggs
    • 1-1/2 cups whole milk 
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
    • 1/3 teaspoon almond extract


    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 350°F. Halve the pears and use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds; there’s no need to peel them. Lightly coat a baking dish large enough to hold the pear halves with the olive oil. Place the pears cut side down in the baking dish and drizzle them with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, then sprinkle on the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour the water into the baking dish and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the pears cut side up, carefully spooning the juices from the bottom of the dish over them and into the cavities. Bake for another 20 minutes or until tender—check with the tip of a knife (if they start to brown before they’re done, cover the dish with foil). 

    Step 2

    While the pears are baking, make the custard. In a heat-safe bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Add the yolks and the whole eggs and whisk until the mixture is light yellow and slightly thick.

    Step 3

    Place the milk in a saucepan and scald it—it should start to form a light skin but not come to a rapid boil. Vigorously whisk 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, and then slowly whisk in the rest. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and bring to a low boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Let it boil for 60 seconds until it thickens enough to coat a spoon (it should be the consistency of a cream soup). Remove from the heat. (If it looks at all lumpy, put it through a strainer.) Whisk in the olive oil and the extracts. Transfer to a 2-cup pitcher for pouring over the pears. Note: If you want to chill the sauce, press a small round of parchment paper over the surface to prevent a skin from forming as it cools down.

    Step 4

    To serve, plate two pear halves on each of four dishes and pour on generous amounts of the sauce and the juices from the baking pan.

    Yields 4 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Pears

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Pears: A Powerhouse of Nutrients

A medium pear has only about 100 calories, but packs a wallop of nutrients. At the top of the list are its 6 grams of fiber—be sure to leave on the skins to get all of them. Rich in antioxidants, pears have potassium, magnesium, and even some vitamin C. They make a great dessert, a filling snack—try a slice on a cracker spread with goat cheese, and a sweet addition to salads. 

Because of that sweetness and their smooth, often buttery flesh, puréed ripe pears can add a sweet note to creamy vegetable soups or be the star of a dessert like a tart, but only the firmer varieties can stand up to cooking, whether poaching, baking, grilling, roasting, or sautéing. Enjoy Bartlett, Starkrimson, and Forelle varieties raw.

Store pears at room temperature. Refrigerate only to slow the ripening process. For instance, if you bought a bushel at the farmers’ market, you can delay ripening by putting some in the fridge and take them out a few days before you want to eat them. Some pears change color as they ripen—green Bartletts, for instance, become yellow. For varieties that don’t typically change color, test for ripeness by gently pressing your thumb near the stem end or on the neck, not the body. The surface should just barely give when ripe. If you want softer flesh for a purée or smoothie, wait for the wider bottom half to become soft to the touch—the inside will actually be overripe. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: How to avoid curdling eggs

Quick Kitchen Nugget

How to Avoid Curdling Eggs

The reason to slowly add hot liquid to eggs for custards and pastry cream is to keep the eggs from curdling, the inevitable result of pouring in a large amount of scalded milk all at once. The cornstarch adds yet another layer of protection, which is why you can finish the cooking in the same pan you use to heat the milk rather than using a traditional double boiler. Still, it’s a must to whisk vigorously through every stage to avoid lumps and create a smooth texture. The cornstarch itself needs to be brought just to a boil and cooked for about a minute or else your custard will taste chalky—vigorously whisking during this stage and turning down the heat as needed are especially important steps to avoid burning. 

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Go Green to Clean

A peer-reviewed study by Environmental Working Group scientists published in the journal Chemosphere detailed new information about the potential health risks of common household cleaning products. Their analysis of 30 products, including multipurpose and glass cleaners and air fresheners, showed that these everyday products may release hundreds of hazardous volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the air we breathe. 

Researchers tested both conventional products and “green” cleaning products and detected a total of 530 unique VOCs in the 30 products. Of these, 193 VOCs were hazardous, meaning they’ve been identified as having the potential to cause health harms such as respiratory system damage, increased cancer risk, and developmental and reproductive impacts. VOCs in cleaning products affect the quality of air both indoors and outdoors, but they contaminate indoor air two to five times more than outdoor air, with some estimates as high as 10 times more. Some products emit VOCs for days, weeks, or even months. 

“This study is a wake-up call for consumers, researchers, and regulators to be more aware of the potential risks associated with the numerous chemicals entering our indoor air,” said Alexis Temkin, PhD, a senior toxicologist at EWG. ”Our findings emphasize a way to reduce exposure to hazardous VOCs – by selecting products that are ‘green,’ especially those that are ‘green’ and ‘fragrance free.’” 

Products labeled green emitted fewer VOCs than did conventional products—about half the number, on average. The green products categorized as “fragrance free” also produced the fewest VOC emissions, nearly eight times fewer than conventional and four times fewer than green products that included fragrance on their label. 

That pattern also held true for the number of VOCs considered hazardous in the products. The green products emitted just four chemicals classified as hazardous, on average, compared to about 15 in green products with fragrance and 22 for conventional products. This suggests that choosing green or green and fragrance free cleaning products could be prudent for those concerned about indoor air quality and potential health risks, such as an increased risk for asthma.

“These cleaning products may hurt our health, but they may also harm the environment,” said Samara Geller, EWG senior director of cleaning science. VOCs emitted by consumer products can contribute to outdoor air pollution, adding to existing environmental concerns. 

“Going green with your cleaning products is an easy way to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. This may be especially important for women’s and children’s health,” said Geller.

Fitness Flash

Protect Against the Biggest Heart Disease Risk Factors 

Scientists of the Global Cardiovascular Risk Consortium under the auspices of the department of cardiology at the University Heart & Vascular Center of the Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and the German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) have shown that the five classic cardiovascular risk factors—excess weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes mellitus—are directly connected to more than half of all cardiovascular diseases worldwide.

Specifically, the numbers are 57.2% and 52.6% of cases of incident cardiovascular disease among women and men, respectively, and 22.2% and 19.1% of deaths from any cause among women and men, respectively. Their work, “Global Effect of Modifiable Risk Factors on Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality,” was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2023.

They came to their conclusions after assessing data on 1.5 million people who took part in 112 different studies done in North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia, North Africa and the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Australia. Their objective was to gain a better understanding of the global distribution, the significance of the individual risk factors and their effects on cardiovascular diseases, and overall mortality in order to derive targeted preventive measures.

Cardiovascular diseases cause approximately a third of all deaths worldwide. They often develop silently over decades. Frequently, without being recognized, the vascular walls change, giving rise to arteriosclerosis, in the wake of which coronary heart disease may occur, including complications such as heart attacks, acute cardiac death, or strokes. But there’s a silver lining—you can do something about each of those five risk factors.

“Our study clearly shows that over half of all heart attacks and strokes are avoidable by checking and treating the classic risk factors. These results are of the highest significance for strengthening prevention in this area. At the same time, approximately 45% of all cardiovascular cases cannot be explained with these risk factors; they should motivate us and the academic funders to further research efforts,” said Stefan Blankenberg, MD, professor and medical director of the University Heart & Vascular Center at the UKE.

“In principle, the five classic risk factors that we examined are modifiable, and thus responsive to preventive measures. So far, the proportion of preventable risk attributed to these five risk factors is still matter of debate,” lead author Christina Magnussen, MD, associate professor in the department of cardiology at the University Heart & Vascular Center of the UKE, explains.

The study shows that we can learn how to avoid cardiovascular diseases or reduce their effects for at-risk persons, or people with cardiovascular diseases, by improving their lifestyles and by lowering blood pressure or cholesterol. It also shows a linear relationship between high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases. “High systolic blood pressure accounts for the largest share of cardiovascular risk. We should place a particular focus on the therapy of patients with high blood pressure to avoid cardiovascular diseases as much as possible,” said Dr. Magnussen. The scientists also identified a remarkable connection between cholesterol levels and overall mortality: Very low as well as high cholesterol levels increase overall mortality.

With the exception of BMI, which remains equally significant at any age, the significance of risk factors decreases with age. High blood pressure, for instance, is more damaging to a 40 year old than to an 80 year old. “This raises the question to what extent the target values for treating cardiovascular risk factors for the most elderly should be identical with those for the middle to older age bracket,” said Dr. Blankenberg.

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