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At my house growing up, we ate a lot of cheese: as an appetizer, on dishes, after dinner or just for a snack. Unlike Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano, Brie was not a staple cheese growing up, but it’s a staple in our refrigerator now. In fact, there is currently a wheel of Brie made from goats milk in my refrigerator. It has a remarkably silky texture and pleasingly tart flavor.

Though most typically served as an appetizer with crackers and cured meats, or baked into a puff pastry, Brie is quite versatile. It enlivens paninis, enriches pastas and makes delectable crostini and quesadillas. For a rustic dessert, pair it with nuts and fresh fruit such as grapes, figs, dates and pears.

Although Brie is a French culinary specialty, it is popular outside of France and available at most supermarkets here in the States.

I used Brie to make a seasonal salad of spicy watercress, sweet Seckel pears and chewy Medjool dates. Seckel pears are the tiniest of all pears and one of the tastiest. These pears are so sweet that they have been called “sugar pears.” If you are fortunate enough to have them in your market, try them.

Watercress, Pear and Brie Salad

Dressing

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

3/4 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper

Salad

1 small bunch watercress, washed, stems removed (about 1 1/2-2 cups)

2 Seckel pears or 1 large Bosc or D’Anjou pear, sliced crosswise

6 Medjool dates, pitted and slivered

4 ounces Brie, thinly sliced (the thin rind is edible)

1/4 cup toasted pecans, slivered

To toast the pecans, place nuts in a single layer in a medium size skillet. Over medium-low heat, cook pecans for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly toasted and fragrant. Alternatively, pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Place nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet in oven for about 5 minutes, give them a stir, and bake another 3 to 5 minutes or until slightly toasted and fragrant.

Saute shallots in 1 teaspoon olive oil, for 3 to 5 minutes until softened. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

To make individual salads, start by placing some watercress in the center of a plate, then add pear slices, some Brie and some dates. Top with toasted pecans and drizzle with dressing. Repeat with remaining three dishes. Serves 4.

Per serving: 290 calories; 21 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 65 percent calories from fat); 18 g carbohydrates; 13 g sugar; 42 mg cholesterol; 428 mg sodium; 10 g protein; 3 g fiber.

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