Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's pears

I'm not too keen on this precious little Hallmark holiday, but it's hard to deny the association between these sexy poached pears and the date (2/14/09) on which they were made. So, tip o' the nib to old St. Valentine, just this once.

Yield: 6 (whole pear) servings

This recipe pretty much reads like mulled wine, with the addition of a few submerged pears that ultimately surface as the main event. It's a lovely winter dessert that tastes totally sinful but is still quite healthy.

- 6 bosc pears, peeled and trimmed of bottom 1/4" (in order to stand up on a plate)
- 1 lemon, juice and rind separate
- 1 (750 mL) bottle Merlot
- 3 cups apple juice or cider
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 anise stars
- 6 whole cloves
- 4 cardamom pods, smashed open
(Equipment: sheet of parchment paper)

1. Peel the pears and immediately submerge in cold water acidulated with lemon juice (to prevent browning).
2. In a medium saucepan, empty the bottle of wine, add the juice/cider and spices, and start to bring up to a very weak simmer on medium-low heat. The key is to never let the liquid actually bubble, just form steam and release miniscule bubbles - a sort of pre-boil. If you'd like, use a thermometer, and try to keep the liquid around 160-180 degrees F.
3. Add the pears carefully, and spread across the top of the saucepan a circle of parchment paper fitted to the size of the opening, with a small hole in the center to allow steam to release. This is to ensure that the pears remain completely submerged as they cook.
4. Continue cooking, keeping a close eye on the liquid temperature, until a knife easily slides into a pear - about an hour, depending on ripeness. If the pears take longer to soften, don't be discouraged. Just make sure you keep checking so that they don't begin to fall apart into the poaching liquid.
5. Once finished, removed the pears with a slotted spoon and set aside on a large platter to cool. Strain the poaching liquid to remove spices. Return liquid to pot and turn up the stove heat to high to bring the poaching liquid to a fast boil. Reduce liquid until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon - this is called nappe (pronounced nap-ay).
6. Pour the sauce over the pears and serve as is or with vanilla ice cream.

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