Monday, 28 November 2011

Getting a Little Nutty for the Holidays - Walnut, Pear, and Blue Cheese Vol au Vents

How are your holiday preparations going?

Yeah, me too.

I'm all about the simple this year, and I have some simple appetizers that you can assemble and bake without losing valuable wine-drinking and socializing time. After all, the holidays are all about friends and family.

This is a classic combination of fruit, nuts and cheese - all in a delicate, shattery puff pastry shell... that someone else prepared. Why not take the help where you can get it?

A sweet and earthy layer of balsamic caramelized onions followed by sweet/tart pears, pungent blue cheese and topped with deliciously crunchy California walnuts.

Let the celebrations begin!

Walnut, Pear, and Blue Cheese Vol au Vents
makes 18

6 purple onions, peeled and sliced thin
3 Tbsp butter
balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

18 vol au vent shells - frozen (you could certainly make your own if you wish)
3 just-ripe pears
36 California walnut halves - about 1 cup
1 pkg extra creamy blue cheese (125gr)

Start on your onions - you can do this hours before or even the day before. Make extra and keep them on hand for pizzas, sandwiches and anything else that can be made all the more delicious with flavourful onions on top. I'd probably draw the line at breakfast cereals, but I don't judge. 

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot on medium-low - melt butter and throw in the onions. Cook low and slow, stirring often. Season to taste with balsamic vinegar, kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. (Be bold!)
Keep cooking until the onions have cooked down to soft, fragrant deliciousness. (About a half hour or so, depending on pan size, amount of onions, heat, etc.)
Try not to eat all the onions before you make the rest of the dish. Set aside to cool.

Cook the vol au vent shells to package directions. I used Tenderflake (they call them patty shells) and they required 20 minutes at 400°F. Let cool on racks and pry out the lid if necessary. Eat crispy lids while nobody is looking.

Assembly - I like to slice the pear and make the cheese shards as I go along. This keeps the pear from turning dark and I can tailor the cheese shards to my needs.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Place a layer of the caramelized onions on the bottom of the vol au vent.

Follow by 2 pear spears and 2 walnut halves. Push a couple of shards of blue cheese in the cracks between. Top with another pinch of the caramelized onions - for garnish as well as a hint at what is inside.

Bake at 350°F for 7 minutes.

Leftovers are lovely eaten straight out of the fridge for breakfast or even as a midnight snack.