All southerners know about that mysterious side dish that is served at family gatherings–Pear Salad. Shredded cheese, mayonnaise, and pears make up the traditional ‘salad’. There are a few variations to the super old school dish, some with cherries and none no better than the last.
For some my last paragraph is controversial. There are two sides of the coin, those who love it and those like me who dislike pear salad. No matter the alignment, we can all agree that its never bad to bring an old school dish into modern day (or at least jazz it up a bit).
My intent was to rethink the savory pear dish into something more upscale and actually edible. I like the idea of taking a sweet ingredient and turning it savory. I like the idea of smothering something in cheese and cream even more.
Creating an au gratin still honors the southern way in that macaroni and cheese is considered a vegetable. If you live in the southeast you appreciate a holiday table that is covered with dishes all similar in hue of tan with no greens in sight. We like our dishes fatty, salty, and smothered in butter.
Au Gratin is traditionally French but us southerners adopted our own version long ago – usually just under another name or dubbed a casserole. The principles for creating an au gratin are simple, layer vegetables and drown them in cheese and cream.
Since pears are sweet the balance (if you can call a fat filled dish balanced) comes from rutabaga. Rutabaga is another popular southern side item–remember tan hued foods. I tried to elevate the dish from country casserole to French-style fare by adding garlic, herbs, and hand shaved parmesan.
Take this dish to your next family gathering and it will surely fit it with its tanned sister dishes. I assure you the flavor will stand out as superior in the sea of Ritz cracker and butter-layered casseroles.