Watercress, Seckel Pear, and Brie Salad: Safe to Serve for Company

by Susan Russo
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watercresspeargoatcheesesaladI don't think there is a cheese that my father doesn't like. He once received a pungent, powerfully-smelly Italian cheese from a friend; he described it as: "Good. Very tasty. With the smell though, you could never serve it for company, but if it's just for close family, yeah, it's good."

It certainly didn't stop him, or my family, from eating it.

At my house we ate a lot of cheese -- as a appetizer, on dishes, after dinner, or just for a snack. Unlike Reggiano-Parmesan and Grana Padano, brie was not a staple cheese growing up, but it's a staple in our refrigerator now.

In fact, there is currently a wheel of brie made from goat's milk in my refrigerator courtesy of Steve at Ile de France, (he has no idea how happy he has made Jeff). It has a remarkably silky texture and pleasingly tart flavor.

Though most typically served as an appetizer with crackers and cured meats, or baked into a puff pastry, brie is quite versatile. It enlivens paninis, enriches pastas, and makes delectable crostini and quesadillas. For a rustic dessert, pair it with nuts and fresh fruit such as grapes, figs, dates, and pears.

Although brie is a French culinary specialty, it is popular outside of France, and available at most supermarkets here in the States.

I used brie to make a seasonal salad of spicy watercress, sweet Seckel pears, and chewy Medjool dates. Seckel pears are the tiniest of all pears and one of the tastiest -- so sweet that they have been called, "sugar pears." As you can see, they are short and rotund with dark green skin that often has a bloom of burgundy. If you are fortunate enough to have them in your market, then try them.

Watercress, Pear, and Brie Salad
Serves 4

1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
3/4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper

1 small bunch watercress, washed, stems removed (about 1 1/2-2 cups)
2 Seckel pears or 1 large Bosc or D'anjou pear, sliced crosswise
6 Medjool dates, pitted and slivered
4 ounces brie, thinly sliced (the thin rind is edible)
1/4 cup toasted pecans, slivered

To toast the pecans, place nuts in a single layer in a medium size skillet. Over medium-low heat, cook pecans for 5-7, stirring occasionally until slightly toasted and fragrant. Alternatively, pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Place nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet in oven for about 5 minutes, give them a stir, and bake another 3-5 minutes or until slightly toasted and fragrant.

Saute shallots in 1 tsp olive oil, for 3-5 minutes until softened. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

To make individual salads, start by placing some watercress in the center of a plate, then add pear slices, some brie, and some dates. Top with toasted pecans and drizzle with dressing. Repeat with remaining three dishes.


Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of  Recipes Every Man Should Know and The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.

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