Food: A perfect pear

When it comes to the avocado, some curious combinations can work surprisingly well. Photograph by Jason Lowe
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Last week I touched on the culinary question of "What goes with what" - or how to cook something properly delicious or make a complete dog's dinner in five minutes, each adventure using a handful of innocent ingredients.

So how does "avocado stuffed with cream cheese and black olives with a herb vinaigrette" grab you in these terms? Is it one of those flights of fancy in the kitchen of an experimentalist who has lost all contact with good taste long ago? Or is it, perhaps, the efforts of a crazed bachelor who only has one squashy avocado, a half-used and rusting tin of Cypressa stoned black olives and the remains of a carton of "Philly Light" at the back of his rumbling fridge?

Well, no, actually, it is neither of these, for it is a jolly little recipe from those immensely useful Cordon Bleu magazines of the late Sixties and early Seventies. However, it is not new to me, as it became a particular favourite of mine while working at a small restaurant in Knutsford, Cheshire around that particular period. I soon became partial to this witty little hors-d'oeuvres, so much so, that I would often feel moved to bribe Margaret (the kindly first-course cook at the time) to furnish me with a slice of this delicacy at the end of "service". (This being the term used to describe when we had all stopped cooking, rather than some gastronomic religious festival.)

So why does this strange combination work so well? It surely sounds a bit rum doesn't it? I mean, a perfectly ripe avocado (which is pale green and cream coloured, gently firm yet yielding and not at all soft and pulpy) may welcome a fine vinaigrette or a muddle of prawns in a carefully made sauce Marie Rose, but to fill its recently stoned tummy with creamed soft cheese and black olives, lightly seasoned with a little anchovy essence, is, how shall we say, pushing it.

Taste is all. It may seem odd that a creamed, mildly fermented lactic paste, all set about with bits of black vegetable and scented by fetid fish, can further enhance the mild avocado pear. Yet it does. And splendidly. Whoever it was within the Cordon Bleu School of 30 years ago, that had been set with the task of "coming up with something new to do to an avocado", clearly had some tiny buds of taste in their tentative palate. But aside from a minuscule amount of you cooks out there - and of a certain age - I hazard that hardly any of you would recall such an outlandish combo. Well, pish. Here's the recipe anyway, which I truly think you will enjoy.

Avocado pear stuffed with cream cheese and black olives, serves 4

2 large Hass avocados, just ripe, no further

sweet and crunchy pale yellow leaves from the heart of a lettuce

a few slices of cucumber

a few sprigs of spring onion

For the stuffing

50g black olives, stoned and chopped

2-3 shakes of Tabasco sauce, to taste

2-3tspn anchovy essence

a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste

250g cream cheese (the best is best; Philly is, well ... Philly)

For the herb vinaigrette

2tbsp red wine vinegar

salt and pepper

chopped chives, tarragon, chervil, parsley, etc

5-6tbsp simple olive oil, or a mixture of this and sunflower oil for a lighter dressing

you will also need two sheets of greaseproof paper and a further squeeze of lemon juice

Mix the stuffing ingredients together in a bowl using a fork or stiff whisk. Season to your own taste, but the result should be pronounced, taking into consideration the blandness that is the avocado pear. Cut the avocado in two lengthways and remove the stone. Remove a little of the flesh that lies at either end of the stone with a teaspoon (eat it!) enabling the stuffing to infiltrate more of the avocado than it otherwise would. Now, carefully peel the skin from each half and discard. Holding each half, fill the cavity and more (so that it rises above the cut surface by about half a centimetre) with the stuffing and then sandwich each half together to make a whole once more; the result will be a peeled avocado with a thick layer of stuffing showing all around its middle.

Dampen each sheet of greaseproof paper with water, spread out and squeeze over some lemon juice. Wrap each avocado tightly in the paper and put in the fridge to cool and firm up for one hour.

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinegar, seasoning and herbs and then incorporate the oil in a thin stream, whisking all the while until amalgamated; add a little warm water to slacken or moderate the taste if you like. Remove the avocado from the fridge, unwrap and slice thickly (see photo) on to plates, garnished with lettuce, cucumber and spring onions. Spoon over the vinaigrette and serve.

So there's that one. Now while I'm on the subject of curious combinations which may - against all the odds - work together well, here are three accepted marriages that, I remain convinced, do not:

1 Poached pears, vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce (aka Poires Belle Helene). Or, for that matter, any fruit at all with chocolate, the worst being fresh raspberries and strawberries. A strawberry dipped in chocolate is, possibly, one of the worst things you can put into your mouth.

2 Lobster Thermidor, or any fish or shellfish cooked with cheese; smoked haddock being the only exception to the rule. Why do you think the Italians never serve Parmesan with a fish or shellfish risotto? Conversely, however, why do the French think that slimy strands of grated Gruyere are at all nice in a soupe de poissons?

3 Tripe cooked with milk. English tripe is so absurdly bleached in the first place (the process, of which, removes any flavour it ever possessed), that to further increase its blandness by the addition of a white sauce - which I like enormously in the correct circumstances - simply adds insult to injury. Tripe needs strong flavours: wine, perhaps, vinegar certainly, maybe with a pig's trotter or a calf's foot tucked alongside it and preferably cooked in France or Italy. Or certainly by those rare British cooks who understand these special needs.

Grilled calf's liver with guacamole, serves 4

One of the very worst things to do to an avocado is to serve it up hot. As an Egon Ronay inspector on a visit to the smarter restaurants of Edinburgh in the late Seventies, I vividly recall a rather controversial first course of half an avocado pear baked with cream, Boursin cheese and chopped smoked chicken. Thankfully, I never discovered quite how this novel combination turned out, as I felt moved towards the soup of the day or even a warm glass of pineapple juice. Incidentally, do you remember how "various fruit juices" used to constitute a starter in those days? In some of the more pseudo-grand hotel restaurants, this would often be featured as "jus de fruits divers".

Now I may well have suggested this liver thing to you before, or talked about it at least once. The idea originates from an ancient Robert Carrier dish of a slice of grilled calf's liver with sliced avocado on top. I seem to recall the recipe required the fruit topping to become hot. Hmmm ... So try this highly controversial combo, where a cool scoop of spiced guacamole plays wonderful tricks with a hot morsel of liver, once put into the mouth.

For the guacamole

2 ripe Hass avocados, flesh removed and coarsely chopped

juice of 1 lime

2 large green chillies, not too fiery, seeds removed and finely chopped

8 mint leaves, finely chopped

1tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander

2tbsp virgin olive oil

2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped

2 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with a little salt

For the calf's liver

4 slices calf's liver, total weight around 350-400g

salt and pepper

a little olive oil

sprigs of fresh coriander

4 lime wedges

a little extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients for the guacamole in a bowl until it resembles a coarse paste. Press a small sheet of clingfilm over the surface and put on one side.

Heat a stove-top, ribbed grill (it is not worth using a radiant grill, as this simply results in a steaming slice of hot liver) until very hot. Season the liver, brush with olive oil and place on to the grill. Leave to cook for about one minute on each side, with surfaces looking nicely striped from the grill. Place on four hot plates and pile some of the guacamole alongside each serving. Garnish with the coriander sprigs, slick with a little of the olive oil and put a lime wedge on each plate.

Chilled avocado soup with salsa, serves 4

For those readers who sit in the goody-goody front desks to my weekly lecture, and with your greasy and floury hands up at each and every opportunity, you may recognise the following recipe as the preceding one reduced to a loose slop with bits. But do not feel cheated, as this is a truly special soup for hot summer days. Whatever you do, do not feel tempted to serve the soup too thick, as this can be cloying. Thick cold soup can be like eating cold porridge.

For the salsa

2 large green chillies, not too fiery, seeds removed and finely chopped

8 mint leaves, finely chopped

1tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander

2tbsp virgin olive oil

2 spring onions. trimmed and finely chopped

2 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with a little salt

For the soup

2 large or 3 small Hass avocados, peeled and stoned

juice of one small lemon

300ml (approx) light chicken stock (or Marigold vegetable bouillon powder made up with boiling water to the correct volume, which then makes this an important soup for the vegetarian repertoire)

150ml single cream

100ml soured cream


To make the salsa, mix all of the ingredients together in a roomy bowl and leave to macerate for around 30 minutes. For the soup, simply whizz the avocados with the lemon juice and stock until very smooth and limpid, adjusting the quantity of stock until your mixture is the texture of custard. Tip into a bowl, whisk in the cream(s) and season with a little salt to taste. Cover with clingfilm - which you should press on to the surface to avoid any discoloration - and chill in the fridge until really cold. Decant into chilled bowls and then spoon some of the salsa into the middle of each serving.