Conscious Cook: Baking fall pears adds a splash of sweetness to savory dishes and desserts

“Sing a song of seasons, Something bright in all, Flowers in the summer, Fires in the fall.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

The exquisite heat of summer has faded, replaced by the vibrant energy of early autumn. Colorful and crisp, early autumn is a season full of fruitfulness. The landscape bursts with unparalleled beauty, as the colors of fall remind us once again how very special it is to live in New England.

The foods of fall are suffused with rich, robust flavor. Brilliant orange pumpkins, dark green winter squash, shiny purple figs, juicy, crunchy apples and luscious, ripe pears usher in a new menu of both savory and sweet selections. Cooks now return to roasting, baking, long, slow simmering, and utilizing seasonal ingredients in a myriad of marvelous preparations.

Pears are a particularly lovely early autumn crop. With their undulating curves and unique shades of pale green, ivory and buckskin tan, a bowl full of pears makes a gorgeous centerpiece. The flavor of a perfectly ripe pear is sublime — the creamy flesh succinctly sweet and supremely satisfying.

Perfect for snacking on their own, a simple pear becomes rather sophisticated when sliced and roasted, the edges becoming slightly caramelized. Place slices on a pretty plate and serve with cinnamon ice cream or fresh ricotta cheese mixed with a bit of maple syrup. A smattering of sliced almonds and you have a most elegant ending to an autumn meal. For a savory option, place those same roasted pear slices on a bed of baby kale, arugula or frisee, drizzle with fig balsamic vinegar and shower with shards of gorgonzola or parmesan cheese.

Pears that are slightly overripe can be cooked down with apple chunks to create a delectable sauce. Cool, then strain after cooking to achieve smoothness, and if desired, add plump golden raisins and chopped walnuts. Serve with grilled or roasted pork. Saute pear slices with warm autumn spices such as ginger, clove, nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. Use it to top oatmeal, pancakes, French toast, yogurt or tuck the tender slices into freshly made crepes.

Add pears to crisps, cakes, cobblers and tea breads. Poaching pears in red wine is a healthy and gorgeous treat. Or zest up pears with hot peppers, cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, onion and garlic for an excellent accompaniment to roast pork, chicken or cheese boards.

Pears offer many health benefits, as they are an excellent source of fiber. A higher intake of fiber may be a boon to the intestines and may be helpful in lowering cholesterol levels. Pears are filled with vitamin B2, C, E, as well as copper and potassium. The juice of pears may provide relief from inflammation and soothe sore throats.

Revel in this season and enjoy fresh pears as you prepare a delicious life.

Early Autumn Roasted Pears

Serves 4

3 fresh pears (not overripe — any variety you like) (peel if you prefer)

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons white sugar (or use honey or maple syrup)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Core pears and cut in thick slices. Toss the pear slices with lemon juice in a bowl. Add sugar and cinnamon and toss again. Place slices in a baking pan and arrange in a single layer. Roast, stirring every so often until soft with golden edges, approximately 30 minutes.

To serve: Layer pears with ice cream, mascarpone, ricotta cheese or yogurt and sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup and sprinkle with cinnamon. Or make bruschetta-spread bread toasts with cream or goat cheese and top with a pear slice or two. Sprinkle with lemon zest and fresh thyme.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook,” writes about preparing a delicious life and presents healthy food workshops throughout New England. She is a professional cook, organic gardener and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teachers College.