2015 was a big year for the Pantry.
It started out simple enough: just keep up. Then the space next door to us finally became available, and I could finally enact the plans I drew up two years ago, when it became apparent that we had outgrown our existing space. Building a second kitchen while keeping the Pantry running smoothly felt somehow harder than the first time around, when I was actually helping with the building (along with any friends I could talk into a “fun” construction day). I didn’t get my hands nearly as dirty this time around, mostly to stay out my contractor’s way, since we were on what is now widely accepted as an impossible schedule. But we finished. And it looks beautiful. And I’m so proud. And I’m so ready to leave Seattle for a nice long break.
I’m a firm believer in vacations, and I encourage all of the Pantry staff to take them. There’s no limit on paid vacation days, and as long as we have plenty of notice, and things feel equitable, I let everyone manage their own time. That, of course, doesn’t stop every single one of us from grinding ourselves into a fine paste, so that by December we all tend to run around looking a little wild-eyed and feral. So in the spirit of keeping our shit together, every year we close down before Christmas and reopen after the New Year begins. We mostly disperse to our respective families and friends, and the time away is relished by us all. This year John and I will be celebrating Christmas in Alabama, then saying hello to 2016 in the Dominican Republic with our friends Molly and Brandon, who own Delancey and Essex next door.
For me personally, this trip is so incredibly important. I don’t naturally slow down — if you’ve seen me at the Pantry, it’s pretty likely that I plowed right by you on the way to some project that had me completely engrossed. I prefer to have long to-do lists, and have a tendency to think five years ahead at all times. But for the ten or so days where one year ends and another begins, I find an ocean somewhere south of Seattle and I float in it. And reflect on everything that happened that year, and how to make the next one even better. Away from the hustle and bustle and endless lists, I get my best ideas for classes, dinners, and other community-minded projects. Brandon and I compare notes on running growing businesses while finding ways to compete with each other (over anything, really), while John and Molly roll their eyes at us from behind their pile of New Yorkers. It is the perfect vacation.
But before we all leave for our respective breaks, the Pantry throws one last big dinner. As I mentioned above, I pride myself on only hiring overachievers, and we like to go out with a bang. Every year we string cranberry garlands across the ceiling, sneak gifts into each other’s bulging stockings, and for a few nights, just really get into the holidays with our version of an Italian Seafood Feast. It was our first time seating 40 guests with our new kitchen, and while there was a bit of a learning curve (walking from one side of the kitchen to the other sure takes longer now that it’s twice as long!), we were beaming by the third and final night of the dinner.
Arancini with tuna and parsley-lemon pesto
Spicy chickpea fritters with cipollini in agrodolce
Caramelized broccolini with oil-cured olive aioli
Ricotta gnudi with anchovy-brown butter
Roasted winter squash, bread crumbs, and chiles
Grilled prawns with caramelized clementines
Fregola, fennel, and saffron
Wilted chicories with pine nuts, pickled currants
Shaved bottarga, and lemon
Cinnamon-roasted pear with espresso butterscotch
Whipped mascarpone and almond
It’s been several months since I wrote about dessert, so it seemed about time. And after eating these roasted pears multiple days in a row, I can say with confidence that I would very much like to eat them again. They’re great for entertaining, as you make all of the components in advance, and then simply warm up the pears and sauce before serving. I like my desserts a little wild-looking (and as I mentioned above, it’s December, so it matches the state of myself and my staff), so I prefer to serve this one in parts, and then let the guests have the pleasure of drizzling sauce across their plates and dolloping mascarpone onto their pears. I’m proud to share that after five course of fairly rich food, there were multiple reports of guests lifting up the family-style platters to scrape every last bit of sauce into their mouths. Now that’s my kind of dinner.
- Roasted Pears:
- 1 lemon
- 6-8 firm ripe bosc pears, depending on size
- 1 ounce unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 6 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup water
- Espresso Butterscotch Sauce:
- 4 ounces unsalted butter
- 14 1/2 ounces brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 cup espresso
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Whipped Mascarpone:
- 8 ounces mascarpone
- 1 cup heavy cream, cold
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Toasted sliced almonds
- Flakey sea salt
Roast the pears:
Heat an oven to 400 degrees F. Use a peeler to get 4 long strips of zest from the lemon. Peel the pears and leave the stems on. Slice the pears in half lengthwise, and scoop out the core with a melon baller. Place the lemon zest, butter, sugar, honey, cinnamon, salt, and water in a 9 x 13-inch pan. Stir around. Place the pears cut side down in the pan on top of sugar mixture.
Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and use a pastry brush to baste each pear with some of the juices. Return to the oven and continue to roast, basting every 10 minutes, until the pears are very tender and the sauce has reduced to a syrup, another 20-30 min. If the sauce isn’t reducing, pour some out and continue roasting the pears until the sauce begins to caramelize. Set aside to cool.
Make the espresso butterscotch sauce:
Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the brown sugar. Rub together to distribute the seeds evenly and break up any clumps. Save the vanilla bean pod for the cream.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir to moisten completely. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar begins to caramelize, about 5-10 minutes. It should stop looking granular and start looking more like taffy.
Whisk in the cream, vanilla bean pod, and salt and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has darkened to a nice caramel color.
Turn off the heat and stir in the coffee and lemon juice. Store in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat before serving.
Whip the mascarpone:
Put the mascarpone into a mixing bowl and whip to break up any clumps. Slowly stream in cream. Add the sugar and continue whipping until barely firm. It will thicken as it sits, so whip it a little less than what feels right.
Assemble the dish:
You can go in many directions with this one. At our dinner we spooned the sauce on a platter, arranged the pears (cut side up) on top, and sprinkled toasted sliced almonds onto the pears. We served the whipped mascarpone in a bowl on the side. If you’re plating these individually, you can spoon a dollop of the cream onto each pear.