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I kind of took the easy way out with this first foray into “Cooking by the Book”.  These two dishes are not complicated.  But, boy howdy, are they yummy!  The Fettucine with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce is from my Sundays at Moosewood cookbook, and the WIne-Poached Pears come from New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant.

I picked the pasta recipe first (from the Italy section of Sundays at Moosewood, which has sections from all sorts of regional and ethnic cuisines), and what goes with bleu cheese? Fruit and wine, of course! So the wine poached pears were a no-brainer. Guess I wanted easy, gourmet comfort food.

Both dishes are simple, but the pears take some time, so I started with them.  I only used 4 pears, because, much as I love leftovers, half a dozen poached pears seemed excessive for one person.  I peeled the pears and put them in a pot with a sliced orange (the recipe doesn’t say whether to peel the orange, so I took the sangria approach and left the peel on), a cinnamon stick, and some whole cloves (I think I grabbed five or six).  I didn’t have any whole allspice, so I just skipped that bit of the recipe.

Then a cup or so of apple juice and about 4 cups of red wine went in.  I brought the contents to a boil and then let them simmer.  According to the recipe the cooking time varies depending on size and variety of pear, but “will probably not take more than half an hour.”  I didn’t time them, but I think it was more like an hour before my pears were “tender and rosy”.

I let the pears cool, while I made the pasta for my entree.  The recipe suggests serving the pears with lightly sweetened whipped cream, but since the pasta dish called for cream, bleu cheese, and cream cheese, I figured I could, and should, skip the cream for dessert.  Honestly, the pears didn’t need any additions, but I will get to the final verdict later.

The Fettucine with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce is ridiculously easy.  It’s definitely going in my weeknight repetoire, since it barely takes longer to make the whole dish than it does to prepare the pasta.  While the pasta water came to a boil, I cut the bleu cheese and cream cheese into chunks.

I had picked a “gorgonzola dolce” at the store, and it worked fine, but I think a more typical, saltier, more pungent gorgonzola would have been even better.  I also used reduced fat cream cheese, since that’s what I had in the fridge.  Once the pasta was in the boiling water, I melted the butter in a saucepan and added the cream with the heat on low to prevent boiling.

Then the cheeses were added, and I stirred the pot regularly to incorporate the melting cheese.

Don’t forget to also stir the cooking pasta once in a while, so it won’t stick to the bottom of the pot or stick together too much. While the sauce and pasta were cooking, I also chopped and toasted some walnuts to go with the dish, which is one of the variations mentioned in the cookbook.  Finally the sauce was all melted and smooth, and I added a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper.

Once the pasta was perfectly al dente (which I never seem to manage, so hooray!), I drained it and put it back in the pot with the gorgonzola sauce.

A quick stir, and the pasta was ready to go.  I put some on a plate and topped it with a sprinkling of the toasted nuts.  The recipe calls for adding parmesan at this point, but I forgot.  Oops.  No great loss, though.

I rounded out the meal with a salad of mixed greens, sauteed asparagus, and lemon vinaigrette, which kept me from feeling too guilty about that creamy, cheesy pasta.  The pasta was luscious, and the crunchy walnuts added just the right amount of contrast.  The dish packed a lot of flavor for something so quick and simple.  And the poached pear was a refreshing end to the meal.  Why don’t I make poached pears all the time?  It was sweet, but not too sweet, with the wine and spice flavors adding to, but not hiding the yummy pear taste.  It didn’t need any whipped cream to be delicious.

I call both dishes very successful!  Maybe next time I do a Cooking By the Book post I will tackle something a little more ambitious, but if you make either of these dishes, I don’t think you’ll mind their simplicity one bit.

Fettucine with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce (from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant), serves 4

1 pound fettucine

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup heavy cream or mikl

4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, cut into pieces

4 oz. cream cheese, cut into cubes

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Bring a large covered pot of water to a boil.  Add the fettucine, stir, and cover the pot until the water returns to a boil.  In a saucepan large enough to hold the cooked pasta, melt the butter.  Mix in the cream or milk and heat carefully, never allowing it to boil.  Add the gorgonzola and cream cheese, stirring frequently, until they are melted and the sauce is fairly smooth.  Add freshly ground pepper.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it and mix it into the sauce.  Toss well to coat the pasta and serve immediately topped with chopped walnuts and parmesan.

Wine-Poached Pears (from New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant), serves 6

6 pears, peeled with stems intact

5 to 6 cups poaching liquid: red wine and fruit juice (pear, apple, apricot, or other) in any proportion

1 orange sliced

1 cinnamon stick

a few whole cloves

several whole allspice

heavy cream, whipped with a little vanilla and maple syrup

Put the pears into a stainless steel pot large enough for an uncrowded single layer.  Add enough poaching liquid to cover the pears so they float and bob around.  Add the sliced orange and the spices.  Simmer on medium heat.  Roll the pears over once or twice so that they poach evenly.  Poaching time will vary depending on the variety, size, and ripeness, but will probably not take more than half an hour.  When the pears are tender and rosy-tinted, carefully remove them from the pot.  Arrange them upright in a bowl.  Add poaching liquid to about 1 inch deep and refrigerate.  Whip the cream with a little vanilla extract and syrup until stiff.  Serve each pear on top of a generous scoop of whipped cream and spoon on a little poaching liquid.

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