Quinces mark the start of the end of summer, and their texture is firmer and less juicy than the stone fruit they follow. However, with slow gentle cooking they develop into a rich textural mouthful. Quinces are funny creatures, as they take an awfully long time to cook compared to a pear, yet they become very soft when cooked and then firm up when cooled.
This salad relies on contrast of textures for its appeal as much as on flavour, with the crunch from the nuts and edamame (fresh soy beans) contrasting with the grainy ricotta – so it’s important you use the best available ricotta. Avoid the supermarket creamed style and source the slightly grainy type. For variation, try to find a ewes’- or goats’-milk type.
Place the wine, sugar, lemon rind, chilli and spices in a small pan large enough to hold the quinces. Peel the quinces and cut them in half. Using a small knife or melon-baller, remove the core and then cut each half in two and place in the pan. Add enough hot water to allow the quinces to float
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the edamame, still in their pods. If frozen, cook them for 4 minutes; if fresh, cook them for 3–4 (you’ll need to check them after 3). Drain the edamame into a colander and then refresh in cold running water for 3 minutes (or plunge into a bowl of iced water). Once cold, pod them by squeezing them between your fingers. Thinly slice the red onion into rings (a mandolin grater is good for this) and rinse in gently running cold water for a minute, then place in iced water to firm up slightly and set aside.
To make the dressing, cut the quinces into wedges and mix 150 ml of the poaching liquid with the olive oil and the lemon juice.
Drain the onion slices and pat dry. Divide half the Baby Gem leaves between 4 plates and place the remaining leaves in a bowl with the quince, edamame, half the onion slices and the pecans. Pour over half the dressing and gently mix, then place this on top of the plated lettuce leaves. Dollop the ricotta on top, scatter with the remaining onion rings and a little salt, then drizzle with the remaining dressing.
© 2005 Peter Gordon. All rights reserved.