I think the chilly winter is a great time to host a real, grown-up dinner party. The holidays are over, school is back in session, everyone has had a chance to take a breath, and frankly, the social scene is a little slow. During the holidays, I see virtually everyone I know, at parties and celebrations, but generally only briefly, for a quick catch-up and greeting. There are just so many people to and so many places, it’s hard to spend any meaningful time with any one person. I also do a lot of cooking, but it’s on demand, as it were, I’m assigned cookies for one party, appetizers for another, the traditional Christmas breakfast. I love it, but I don’t always get to exercise my creativity. So as January progresses, it’s nice to gather friends together, set the table and get in the kitchen for a session of cooking by choice.
Pear and stilton is a classic pairing, the sweet, juicy pears and the tangy, rich, salty cheese complement each other perfectly. This soup is a unique way to recreate the classic. It’s silky and rich, a sweet backdrop with a sharp note. For an elegant multi-course meal, this is the perfect opener. But it works equally well as a casual meal, served with a plank of hearty bread, or maybe a salty ham sandwich.
Pear and Stilton Soup
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only
3 celery stalks
¼ cup butter
6 ripe green pears, such as Comice
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
10 ounces Stilton
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and then into thin half-moons. Separate them with your fingers and place them in a colander. Run lots of cold water over the leeks, tossing to make sure they are all cleaned. Chop the celery into small pieces. Melt the butter in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the leeks, with some water clinging to them, and the celery. Stir to coat well in the butter, Cover the pot and cook the vegetables until they are very soft and tender, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently, and if the leeks are in danger of browning, add ¼ cup of water and continue cooking. Do not let the vegetables brown.
While the vegetables are cooking, core the pears, but do not peel, and cut them into small chunks. When the vegetables are soft, add the pears to the pot and stir to mix everything together. Cover the pot and let the pears simmer, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and have released their juices, about 15 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Let the soup cool for a few minutes, puree it in batches in the carafe of a blender. Be careful with hot liquids; fill the carafe half full, vent the top and hold it down with a tea towel. Puree the soup as smoothly as you can. Pour each batch through a wire mesh sieve set over a bowl. Press the soup through the sieve with a spatula. In the end, you may have some pulp left behind, but very little. This step creates a smooth, silky texture that makes the soup so elegant.
Rinse out the soup pot and return to the stove. Pour the soup back in and bring it up to a gentle simmer. Whisk in the cream. Set aside a little bit of Stilton to top the bowls of soup, crumble the rest and whisk it bit by bit into the simmering soup until it is all melted and smooth.
Serve the soup with the toasted walnuts and a little crumbled Stilton on top.