I have two large pears sitting in my fruit bowl as I write this. Looking at these great hulking, handsome things, pale green, just ever so slightly mottled with antique gold, it almost seems a crime to strip off their skin in order to poach them. But I know that when they’re treated properly, they’re elevated from something delicious but unassuming, to an elegant pudding worthy of any guest.
Poached pears have gone out of fashion a little, but I don’t know why, because for something that’s pretty straight forward to prepare – pears peeled and plonked in a pan of plonk – they look quite charming when served. I love that, unlike the flavour, the colour doesn’t penetrate all the way through the pear, so that when you dive into it with a spoon, there is a shock of champagne coloured flesh just below the surface.
The French call these poires a la beaujolaise, but truly, any fruity red wine will do. Once the pears are poached in the wine and spices – upright so that they don’t get squashed and retain their eponymous shape – the liquor is reduced down until it is dark and sweet and syrupy, spiced and aromatic. Then both pears and liquor can be chilled and left until you’re ready to serve.
Red wine-poached pears
Makes: Pudding for four
Takes: Five minutes
Bakes: 20 minutes on the hob
4 medium-sized pears
1 bottle red wine
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 star anise
1 vanilla pod
1 cinnamon stick
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons creme de cassis
1. Peel and core the pears, leaving the stalks in tact.
2. Pour the red wine into a pan just big enough for the four pears to stand upright snugly. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve, before placing the cinnamon stick, peppercorns, star anise and lemon peel in with it. Split the vanilla pod down the middle with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds within; pop them in the pan, along with the vanilla husk itself.
3. Stand the four pears upright in the pan; the red wine should come up to their stalks. Turn on the heat, and bring up slowly to a gentle simmer. The amount of time your pears take to cook depends on their size but after 20 minutes, begin gently testing the pears with a sharp knife. The pears should offer no resistance to the blade when they are ready.
4. When the pears are cooked, lift them from the poaching syrup and place, still upright, in a container in the fridge to chill.
5. Sieve the poaching liquor to remove the spices and zest, and return to the pan with the two tablespoons of crème de cassis. Turn the temperature up under the poaching liquor and leave it to reduce by two thirds until it is as thick as cordial. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
6. Serve the pears cold, drizzled with the reduced syrup, and a scoop of crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream.