My friend Josh Eisen is a wine collector/connoisseur, and a gifted cook. I view him as an explorer… of the wondrous and complex interactions between foods and wines. Over years of cooking together, I’ve learned a huge amount from Josh, including essential lessons about the many things you can do with “ends” of bottles of wine, that is, the inch or two left un-drunk after a meal. These pears are one of my favorites. Poached in red wine that Josh perfumes with peppercorns, star anise, cardamom, bay leaf and coriander, they make a simple, very French dessert.
If you’re a wine drinker, keep a bottle in the fridge into which you can pour the remains of a bottle of red wine, then cork. Corking and refrigerating the wine will help keep retain enough of its flavor for cooking. Keep adding until you have a bottles worth, up to about 2 weeks. This is a particularly good dessert to make after a wine tasting.
Since the pears take only about fifteen minutes to prepare, and 30 minutes to cook, they can be made at the start of the dinner prep while enjoying an aperitivo.
Recipe: Pears Poached in Red Wine, Cardamom, Bay Leaf and Coriander or other Flavorings
Take away the spices and you have a basic recipe for pears poached in red wine. Which you can swap for white, and/or add any number of flavorings, from lemon or orange zest, to cinnamon, to a single split vanilla bean.
4 firm, not quite ripe pears such as Bosc or Bartlett
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seed
6 cardamom pods, broken
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups full-bodied red wine
1 cup sweet fortified wine such as ruby port or Bual or Malmsey Madeira OR an additional 1/2 cup sugar
Working from stem to flower end, use a vegetable peeler to shave the peel from the pears in lengthwise strips (this leaves an appealing pattern on the pears). If the pears don’t stand stem-side-up by themselves, cut a thin slice off the flower end to make a flat bottom. Arrange the pears, stem up in a saucepan just large enough to hold them.
Add the spices and sprinkle the sugar over the pears. Then pour the wines over. Nestle the pears down until the wine covers them completely. Cut a circle of parchment to fit the diameter of the pot and place over the pears. Place a pot lid or plate slightly smaller than the saucepan on top of the parchment to hold the pears below the surface of the wine as they cook.
Bring the pears to a simmer. Cook, rearranging the pears occasionally, until a skewer passes to the corse with little resistance, 20 to 30 minutes. Gently remove the pears to a serving bowl.
Boil the wine over moderate heat until it is reduced to a syrup, about 1 cup). Strain it over the pears. Serve chilled or at room temperature.