december 4, 2015
Some of the best meals are eaten with a spoon. Pureed soups are great, and thick chunky chowders are even better. I make so many soups that I rarely order them in restaurants, but if a well populated chowder presented itself, I would reconsider. Especially if it contains cheese.
In past years, my end of year holiday color scheme has been purple and blue and green, but I find myself drawn to traditional red-green-gold this year. This thick soup fits the bill with red pear, green leek and yukon gold potato, plus a hefty dose of tangy white cheddar. I scored some aged Vermont white cheddar from the Cellars at Jasper Hill (Tillamook and Cabot Creamery also have nice white cheddars) and found brilliant red pears at the market and dreamed up this tummy warming chowder for those chilly nights when soup, a salad and hot bread make for a comforting dinner by the crackling fire. Alas, I can’t imagine it will freeze well for later, so you will have to make it all gone within a few days.
If this becomes a weekend project, there are some steps you can do ahead so that cooking will flow that much easier. Grate the cheese, chop the leeks and cut the pears (browning is okay, but if you like a more pristine appearance, toss them with a bit of lemon juice to stop oxidation) the day before. Start the soup, toss a salad, warm the bread, stoke the fire and welcome chilly weather with the flavors of fall in this lovely chowder.
Pear Cheddar Chowder
makes six to eight servings (four large)
two large leeks, trimmed, cleaned and sliced *
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
finely ground white pepper
3 tablespoons flour (white rice or potato for gluten free, or all purpose)
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups best quality vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream (can also use half-and-half, or whole milk)
2 teaspoons cane sugar
2 red pears, unpeeled, cored and coarsely chopped
2 yukon gold potatoes (about 12 ounces total), peeled and coarsely chopped
8 ounces aged white cheddar, grated by hand
optional garnishes : sage leaves, grated cheddar, finely chopped red pear
*cook’s note : I use the tender green and also some of the more sturdy green of the leek, for flavor and texture
- In heavy two quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, add leeks with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of white pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes or until softened, adjusting heat to avoid browning.
- Add flour, sage and nutmeg, and stir, cooking over low heat about one minute.
- Combine stock and cream, and add gradually to the leek mixture, whisking well; if you add liquid all at one, the starch will be “shocked” and grainy – gradual makes for a smooth soup.
- After liquid is added, add pears, potato and sugar, bring to boil, and simmer gently about 10 minutes or until potato is just tender.
- The chowder will appear thin, but will thicken nicely after cheese is added.
- Add cheddar in several additions, stirring gently to avoid breaking up pears, until all is smooth.
- Serve immediately; may be made several days ahead, and reheated over very gentle heat until just barely simmering.
- This soup does not freeze well because of the fruit, so eat up!