Prime time for pears
November 15, 2019
One of the most difficult parts of a Thanksgiving Day meal is dessert. Do you make the same pie (or pies) that your mother and grandmother have been baking for decades? Do you make something especially decadent to complement the complex menu? Or, do you skip dessert altogether to give all those full tummies a chance to recover?
This year, we’re going to do something a little bit different. Instead of the traditional pumpkin pie, we’ll feature a fruit that’s in peak season right now – pears. For their preparation, we’ve decided to poach them in red wine, seasoned with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.
To select the best type of pears for this dish, look for firm, unblemished, brown-skinned Bosc. These have a crisp texture, mildly sweet flavor and retain their shape when cooked. Another alternative is the Anjou variety, whose mild flavor won’t compete with the poaching liquid, and its texture won’t become mushy.
Although delicious, sweet and juicy, Bartlett pears are not a good choice. Their delicate texture causes them to bruise easily, and cooking turns them to mush. Also, stay away from pears that are overripe. You want them slightly soft, but not too squishy. Since you have to peel the pears and then rotate them in the pan as they cook, you’ll need pears that can withstand some handling.
If you look at the photo, you can see the Bosc pear in front. The subtle curves and elegant shape look lovely on the plate. In the rear, there’s an Anjou, which is lumpier and rounder, and doesn’t sit up quite as straight. They both absorbed the poaching liquid nicely, creating that signature burgundy color.
The next choice in selecting ingredients for this dish is which red wine would provide the best match. As you poach the pears, the wine will reduce slightly, concentrating its flavors, so find one you like to drink. I stopped at Teller Wines in Lewes and they steered me to an inexpensive Tempranillo that proved ideal. You can also use a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot.
The final question for this dish is which seasonings to use to flavor the wine. If you think about mulled wine, you get a sense of what will work well. In addition to some honey or sugar, toss in orange peel, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and grated nutmeg. For a slightly different flavor profile, you can add vanilla beans, berries or fruit juice, such as apple cider or orange juice.
Before you start peeling your pears, combine the wine and seasonings in a saucepan just large enough to hold your pears snugly. As they poach, you’ll be turning them to submerge each side and angling them to cover their tops as well. Fortunately, the red color lets you know which parts have been poached and where you might have missed. You can also slice the pears in half lengthwise to reduce the rotating steps.
Although you can serve the pears while still warm, I prefer to give them some time to marinate in the poaching liquid, usually in the refrigerator overnight. When you’re ready to serve the pears, separate them from the liquid and simmer the wine mixture into a thick syrup to pour over the pears just before serving.
As a garnish, consider a dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone cheese. I’ve included the basic recipe for red wine-poached pears, but you can use the same technique with different poaching liquids, such as hard cider or stout. I’ve also included a vanilla-forward version with hints of cranberry flavor. You won’t miss the pumpkin pie.
2 C red wine
1/3 C sugar
3 strips orange peel
10 whole cloves
1 broken cinnamon stick
1/4 t grated nutmeg
4 Bosc pears
In a saucepan large enough to hold the pears snugly, combine the wine, sugar, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Peel the pears, leaving the stem; cut off a slice from the bottom so the pears will stand upright. Add the pears to the pan and simmer for 25 minutes, rotating regularly to poach evenly. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the pears to cool. Transfer pears and liquid to a zip-top bag and refrigerate for several hours (or overnight). When ready to serve, place the pears on dessert plates and pour the liquid into a small saucepan. Simmer over medium until reduced and thickened. Pour over pears and serve.
Vanilla Poached Pears
2 C red wine
1/4 C honey
2 strips lemon peel
10 whole cloves
1/2 C cranberry juice
1 vanilla bean
4 Bosc pears
In a saucepan large enough to hold the pears snugly, combine the wine, honey, lemon peel, cloves and cranberry juice. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Peel the pears, leaving the stem; cut off a slice from the bottom so the pears will stand upright. Add the pears to the pan and simmer for 25 minutes, rotating regularly to poach evenly. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the pears to cool. Transfer pears and liquid to a zip-top bag and refrigerate for several hours (or overnight). When ready to serve, place the pears on dessert plates and pour the liquid into a small saucepan. Simmer over medium until reduced and thickened. Pour over pears and serve.