February 1, 2011
Rich chocolate desserts seem like a wonderful choice for a romantic Valentine’s Day meal and there is no greater fan of chocolate than I. When I resolved to eat healthy, I didn’t eliminate chocolate, but since my favorite chocolate desserts are laden with sugar and fat, I am opting for those with less of one or the other. A family favorite is poached pears. It was inspired by a PBS series: “Great Chefs of New Orleans”. I watched it religiously and was thrilled when Mom gave me two cookbooks from the series for Christmas.
I never cared for raw pears, but my grandmother made delicious preserved pears so I knew the fruit had promise. One recipe featured standards like pate briseé and crème Anglaise, as well as poached pears. Practicing the recipe was excellent training. As my skills developed, my sense of adventure prompted me to sample other foods I did not (or thought I would) like. My appreciation for cooked pears led me to try a strudel made with phyllo dough, pears and mincemeat, and a classic salad that featured sautéed pear slices and Gorgonzola cheese. It turns out that I love pears poached, sautéed or preserved.
A simple preparation is to peel, core and poach the fruit. Use sweet white, red or sherry wine for tasty results or try leftover coffee – an idea that came from Jacques Pèpin. I have poached the fruit in a pan in the oven or on top of the store (quicker). I have also poached pears with or without filling the core with a mincemeat-like paste of raisins, ground almonds and brown sugar.
Add a sweet sauce to turn the pears into a wonderful dessert. You can use your own imagination and drizzle the poached pears with caramel, chocolate or classic Melba sauce. I also make a simple white sauce flavored with the poaching liquid. Furnish diners with a fruit spoon serrated on the tip so they can “dig” in.
1 lemon, peeled and juiced
4 pears (Bosc or Bartlett differ only in how long it will take to poach.)
½ cup sugar
1 cup white wine or sherry
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons almonds, pecans or walnuts
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
Peel and juice the lemon. Use a light touch and leave the white pith behind. Peel and core pears. Slice a little off the bottom of each pear to make them sit flat. Sprinkle with lemon juice or mix a small bowl of lemon juice and water to dip the pears in. This will prevent the fruit from turning brown. (Optional) Mix raisins, nuts and brown sugar. Stuff the core of each pear with the raisin mixture. Place the pears in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; use the smallest pan that will accommodate your fruit to raise the level of the liquid over the fruit. Pour in wine, water and add sugar, juice of one lemon and the peel. Bring liquid to a boil, cover and simmer. Poach pears for at least 25 minutes or until tender and easily pierced with a knife. Transfer cooked pears to a fruit compote or individual serving dishes and keep warm. Top with your choice of sauces and serve warm. Serves 4.