At book club, we’re reading our way through the novels of the Bronte sisters, and are currently up to Villette. And, let me say, it’s not an easy read. Lucy Snowe is, to say the least, an unreliable narrator and Charlotte Bronte really likes to make her readers work for their information. Plus, French is liberally splattered throughout the pages – the assumption probably being that educated readers back in those days could speak (or at least read) it.
Harder still is the decision of what to bake at the end of this book.
While each of the other novels has taken place largely around Yorkshire or neighbouring counties, this one is mostly set in the fictional kingdom of Labassecour which is modelled on Belgium with the town of Villette being based upon the city of Brussels.
When I think of Belgium I think of chocolate, waffles and speculaas (or speculoos) – those beautifully spiced biscuits that were traditionally baked for St Nicholas’ Day (you can find a recipe here). Then there’s carbonnade (the Flemish-style meat stew), bitterballen (beef croquettes) and moules-frites (mussels and chips).
One of the first things, though, that Lucy Snowe eats upon her arrival in Villette is a baked pear. A pear tree also features later in the novel when Lucy chooses an old pear to hide her treasures within.
So it is that a baked pear figures in my first Villette inspired bake.
This is one of those salads that’s as great in spring as it is in autumn. It’s a good starter or light supper dish, and great for workday lunches. Plus, if you have leftover dressing it will keep in the fridge for a few days and is yummy tossed through warm lentils or roasted veg such as beetroot and carrots.
It was also the perfect excuse for me to open the lovely little jar of honey we got on check-out the other day at Spicers Clovelly Estate. The honey is produced by their own busy bees.
Finally, before I give you the recipe, a note on the walnuts and the goat’s cheese.
This recipe calls for the walnuts to be toasted in the oven. After taking a work call and having them burn, I did mine in a small frypan where I could keep a good eye on them – even with my phone to my ear. It is, however, your call. Also, instead of using a goat’s cheese “log” I used a soft goats curd and added it to the tray of pear and thyme with 10 minutes cooking time to go. I couldn’t get radicchio, but picked some mixed leaves from the lettuce I’m growing. The message? Work with what you’ve got.
What you need (serves 2)
- large handful of walnuts (about 80g)
- 2 medium, ripe but firm pears
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 150g soft goat’s cheese log
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
- 2 large handfuls of radicchio or red chicory, roughly torn – although other salad greens work just as well.
For the dressing
- ½ tsp honey
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
What you do with it
- Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan and toast the walnuts on a baking tray for 5-10 minutes, shaking the tray halfway through, until lightly roasted (keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t catch). Tip into a bowl.
- Core the pears, slice each one into eighths and drizzle with the olive oil. Lay them on the baking tray and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.
- Slice the goat’s cheese log into eight and place in the gaps between the pear slices. Scatter over the thyme and roast for 30-35 minutes, until the goat’s cheese and pears are going golden at the edges.
- Meanwhile, whisk the dressing ingredients together (or shake in a jam jar) and season to taste.
- To serve, toss the salad leaves with the dressing. Put on a platter and top with the pear, goat’s cheese and walnuts (or arrange in the baking tray). This is best served warm.
This recipe is originally by Melissa Hemsley and appeared in The Telegraph.