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Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Pears

It's been ages since I've poached pears. Even though they seem so old school, I still cling to the notion of those nostalgic relics. Nowadays, I'm more likely to toss sliced fresh pears into salads or crisp them up in a low oven for chips to serve alongside whipped gorgonzola mousse.  The last time I poached pears was for a swanky Christmas supper at my father's country house on his lakeside farm. While others stayed busy cueing up the ham, turkey, and usual holiday fixings, I casually danced around the chaos and quietly banged out a totally retro platter of poached pears. Nobody saw it coming. Although  my father was a big time bourbon drinker, he always stashed boxes of cheap red wine on the enclosed second story back deck, so I used a few glugs of his cheap stuff to poach pears as a savory side to accompany the familiar holiday trappings. While a wee bit over the top, I'm not quiet sure the glistening ruby-red pears brought a heck of a lot to the party or tickled the fancy of the hungry crowd, but they certainly packed a stunning unexpected punch to the holiday table. In my book, more is more. I really haven't thought much about those happy holiday pears since that night.

It's coming on Christmas.

Red Wine Poached Pears With Chevre and Candied Pecans.
Most preparations for poached pears require tons of sugar simmered in wine (red or white) to create simple syrups for pear desserts. Nope. I reduced the sugar and took a savory route.

Small effort. Big payoff.

After peeling four firm Bosc pears, I left two whole before coring and halving the other two, leaving the stems attached. I filled a stock pot with a bottle of Merlot, added black peppercorns, fresh lemon juice, 2 bay leaves, a whole semi-dried chili pepper, 3 cloves, and 1/2 cup sugar to balance the acidity in the wine. I carefully plunged the pears into the wine, brought the wine to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and let the pears poach until they were tender, turning them over in the simmering wine every 10 minutes to insure they cooked evenly. I used very firm (almost under-ripe) pears, so it took about 40 minutes until they were tender enough to pierce with a knife.

I pulled the pot from the heat and let the pears come to room temperature in the reduced wine. When they were completely cooled, I carefully placed them into a deep pan with the aromatic wine, covered them with plastic wrap, and slid them into the refrigerator to chill overnight. Occasionally, during wine refills or snack attacks, I basted the pears with the chilled wine until they were deeply stained. Like fruity sponges, they continued to absorb the wine.

I knew I was going to fill the pears with cheese. Wine and cheese. Classic. Pears pair beautifully with any blue veined varieties, so I thought about gorgonzola or stilten. I toyed with the notion of grating Boone Creek Creamery blackberry wine-infused gruyere ( my current favorite) over the pears, but that seemed like overkill. In the end, I went with whipped cracked black pepper chevre.

After nestling the poached pears onto baby arugula, I piped enough whipped chevre to fill the hollowed cavaties, seasoned them with pepper, drizzled the reduced poaching wine over the flesh, and finished with a scattering of candied pecans.

With hints of pepper, chili, and bay, the soft acidity of the wine balanced the inherent sweetness of the pears, tipping them over to the savory side. Paired with the subtle graininess of the cooked pears, the creamy tang of the chevre and the sweet crunch of the pecans created a fantastic play on textures.

Holiday (or any day) Red Wine Poached Pears.


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