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The Olive Oil Hunter News #9

The Olive Oil Hunter News #9

Composed Pear Salad With Port Vinaigrette Recipe, Spotlight on Pears, Anti-inflammatory Foods and Hand Workouts

When the results of a heart-health study are announced, it’s time to stop the presses. News that heart disease and stroke are linked to inflammation caused by diet lets me know that we are right on track with The Olive Oil Hunter Newsletter and my commitment to bringing you healthful recipes that taste so good, you’ll almost feel guilty for eating them! 

Details from the research are below, but the main takeaway is that one group of foods increases inflammation, while another group decreases it. This issue’s recipe includes many foods on the “good” list…

Composed Pear Salad With Port Vinaigrette

  • The Olive Oil Hunter News #9 Composed Pear Salad With Port Vinaigrette

    This dish is made for the fall, when pears are bountiful across the US. It’s also an effortless way to put together a composed salad for a brunch, a lunch or even a meatless supper with a combination of ingredients that is a little surprising…and totally delicious. While you can use poached pears or even grill pear halves just as you would bell peppers, for an elegant meal in minutes, pick a pear variety that tastes best au naturel (see the Healthy Ingredient Spotlight below to get familiar with varieties besides Bartlett). The vinaigrette is great on everything, so if you have extra, enjoy it on steamed veggies or even as a marinade for chicken breasts.


    • 1/4 cup good-quality red wine vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons port wine
    • 1 tablespoon honey, preferably eucalyptus honey
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste
    • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
    • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 6 cups salad greens, such as mesclun or a mix of frisée, arugula and mâche, torn if needed
    • 2 ripe, unpeeled pears, such as Bartlett, Anjou, Comice or Starkrimson, halved and cored
    • 4 tablespoons Gorgonzola Dolce or another creamy and mild blue cheese
    • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
    • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds 


    To make the vinaigrette, add the vinegar, port, honey, salt and pepper to a blender. Turn on the machine and slowly trickle in the olive oil through the cap in the lid, processing until emulsified. Divide the salad greens among four plates. Center a pear half, cut side up, over the greens on each plate, and fill the center of each pear with a spoonful of the cheese. Drizzle a tablespoon of the vinaigrette over the pears and greens, then sprinkle on equal amounts of the nuts and pomegranate seeds.

    Yields 4 servings
Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Pears

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Versatile Pears

It’s time for pears to get the recognition that their seasonal cousin apples do. A medium pear has just 100 calories, 5 grams of fiber, vitamins C and K, a smattering of minerals and zero fat. Nearly 90% of the pears grown in the US come from the three West Coast states, but Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania are also producers, along with small farms around the country.

Pears are a wonderful ingredient in many dishes, adding sweetness to a vegetable soup or being 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. 

Among the most widely available varieties are:

Anjou Green and Red: These are great for snacking and cooking, and they’re available from fall through the following summer.

Bartlett Red and Yellow: Best enjoyed raw, these are the first pears harvested each year, but their season only goes through December. A Bartlett is ripe when the skin color changes: Yellow Bartletts go from green to yellow, and Red Bartletts go from a dark to a brilliant red. 

Bosc: Great for eating and cooking, Bosc pears are sweeter and more flavorful earlier in the ripening process. They stay firm, so they will hold up to cooking. Available until April.

Comice: Though Comice pears are traditionally green, some new strains are completely red. They’re delicious and delicate with a fragile skin—slight bruising shouldn’t affect their taste. Available through February.  

Concorde: A mix of Comice and French Conference pears, Concordes are long, tapered and elegant with dense flesh that holds its shape during cooking. Available until December. 

Forelle: One of the smallest and most limited of commercially grown pears, Forelle pears are too delicate to cook. Their skins turn bright yellow with red freckles when ripe. Available until January.

Seckel: Possibly the only truly American variety of pear grown commercially, Seckel pears are also the smallest. With olive-green skin and a maroon blush, this pear has flesh that is firm enough for cooking. Available until February.

Starkrimson: As it ripens, the distinctive crimson color of its delicate skin goes from dark to bright. Floral and sweet, it is best enjoyed uncooked. Available through November.

Unlike many other fruits, pears need to be picked well before they ripen. Left on the tree to soften, they’ll taste grainy. At home, keep them at room temperature (refrigerate only to slow the ripening process). For pears that don’t typically change color, test for ripeness by gently pressing your thumb near the stem end, or 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.

Healthy Kitchen Tip: Preparing Pears

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Preparing Pears

A great way to enjoy pears is to poach them in a highly flavored liquid. The pear will pick up the essences of the other ingredients you use and, once cooked, will keep in the fridge for up to a week in the poaching liquid. The best pears for poaching are the smaller Seckel and Forelle and the larger Bosc and Concorde. Keeping on the stems makes them more elegant if you’re serving them whole.

Here’s the basic technique for poaching pears: Gently peel them with a vegetable peeler, giving each pear a squeeze of lemon juice as you go to avoid browning. Place the peeled pears in a saucepan that will hold them snugly without crowding them. Add your chosen spices and enough liquid to completely cover the pears—you’ll need about 4 cups of liquid for 6 to 8 pears. To protect them further, place a round of parchment paper over the tops of the pears during cooking. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until a knife easily goes into the flesh. Let cool. You can store the pears in their liquid or, if you’re serving them right away and want a simple sauce, remove the pears and any whole spices from the saucepan and vigorously boil down the liquid until it’s reduced to a syrup.

Experiment with any spices and flavors you like. Here are three combinations to try:

  • Mulled Spice: Use 3 cups apple cider or juice, 1 cup water (more if needed), 2 cinnamon sticks, 8 black peppercorns and 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and allspice.
  • Purple Beauty: Use 3 cups port, red wine or cranberry juice, 1 cup water (more if needed), the peel of an orange or lemon, 2 cloves and 1 cinnamon stick.
  • Golden Beauty: Use 3 cups fruity white wine, 1 cup water (more if needed), 1 cinnamon stick and 1 vanilla bean, split, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
For Your Best Health: Anti-inflammatory Foods

For Your Best Health

Anti-inflammatory Foods

You’ve probably heard some foods described as “pro-inflammatory”—they increase levels of unwanted and unhealthy inflammation within the body. A landmark study just published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, one that included 210,000 Americans, has found that a diet high in such foods has been linked to an increased risk for our number one killer: cardiovascular disease, or CVD. Inflammation lays the groundwork for high blood fats and deposits on artery walls, clogging those arteries and setting the stage for heart attacks and strokes. 

Turns out that people who ate a more pro-inflammatory diet—lots of red, processed and organ meats; refined carbohydrates, including sugars; and sweetened drinks—had a 38% higher risk of CVD compared with people who ate an anti-inflammatory diet. The findings held true for men and women, including people who were at a normal weight.  

Eating more anti-inflammatory foods can be a winning strategy to help prevent CVD. Reviewing this study and other recent studies, an editorial panel writing in the same issue of the journal outlined top foods to put on your menu: green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, cabbage, watercress, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, arugula and endive; yellow vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin and yellow peppers; tomatoes and other fruits like blueberries, pomegranates, oranges, cherries, strawberries, apples and pears; whole grains, including wheat, oat, rye, buckwheat and millet; walnuts; extra virgin olive oil; fatty fish; and coffee, tea and wine, all rich in antioxidants.

Fitness Flash: Hand Exercises

Fitness Flash

Hand Workouts

Do you take your hands for granted? Think of all they do—cooking included!—and show them a little TLC. Exercises from Keck Medicine at the University of Southern California can help with stiffness and pain, too. Here are two to get you started: 

Hold a soft ball in one palm, squeezing as hard as you can without causing pain. Hold 3-5 seconds, then release and switch hands. Work up to 10-12 reps with each hand. Repeat every other or every third day. 

Make a gentle fist with each hand, wrapping your thumb across your other fingers. Hold up to one minute, then release and open your fingers, spreading them as wide as you can. Repeat 3-5 times with each hand. 

If these exercises cause discomfort or if you have chronic hand pain, check in with your doctor for an evaluation.

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