For our series
For our series "Main Ingredient," Chef Virginia Willis made pear mostarda and black pepper cream cheese biscuits.

"On Second Thought" continues its "Main Ingredient" series in which a chef tells us about his or her essential Southern ingredient.

For Chef Virginia Willis, that's the pear — her favorite fall fruit. Willis, who is also the author of cookbooks including "Lighten Up, Y'all," grew up around her grandparents' pear tree. She invited us into her kitchen for a lesson on how to make pear mostarda and black pepper cream cheese biscuits. Both recipes are in her newest cookbook, "Secrets of the Southern Table," and with her permission, are reprinted below for you to try out at home. Virginia Willis shares her "Main Ingredient" with "On Second Thought" host Virginia Prescott.

Pear Mostarda
Makes 2 cups

  • ¾ cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 6 firm Bosc pears, cored, peeled and diced (about 6 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper


  1. Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add the pears and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.
  4. Cook until the pears are tender but still hold their shape and most of the liquid has cooked away, 30 to 35 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the Dijon mustard.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Let cool completely before serving.

The mostarda is best made a few days before serving so that the flavors can meld and intensify. It keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Black Pepper Cream Cheese Biscuits
Makes 36 (1½-inch) biscuits

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the biscuits
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¾ to 1 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing the biscuits
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more for the top
  • Sliced ham, for serving (optional)
  • Pear Mostarda (recipe follows)


  1. Heat the oven to 500°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat.
  2. In a food processor, pulse together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse to combine. Add ¾ cup of the buttermilk and the pepper; process until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl, adding the remainder of the buttermilk, if necessary. The dough should pull from the sides of the bowl. (In testing, I found that 1 cup was necessary with King Arthur all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup was more appropriate for White Lily flour.)
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead lightly, using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, and then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a small turn and repeat four or five times. (It’s not yeast bread; you want to just barely activate the gluten, not overwork it.)
  4.  Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 9-inch square about ¾ inch thick. Using a chef’s knife or a long utility knife, cut the biscuits into 1½-inch squares. (Don’t drag the knife through the dough, but instead press the knife directly through the dough. This will help prevent pinched edges.)
  5.  Use an offset spatula or pancake turner to move the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet, keeping them close together. Brush with buttermilk and sprinkle with additional pepper.
  6. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 450°F. Bake, rotating the pan once, until nicely browned and the temperature registers 205°F, about 17 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm with sliced ham and Pear Mostarda.