I have only had the pleasure of travelling to Italy once. We had family friends who had a charming flat at the time in Rome. From there, we enjoyed the city immensely, always retreating to the lemon tree lined streets of their neighbourhood at dusk. I couldn’t tell you how old I was or how long we stayed. I do recall, among other things, drinking limoncello in the countryside as we wound our way through the hills, endless churches which I couldn’t appreciate at the time, constant cigarette smoke, streets that only a single car should have been physically capable of driving down at a time, and the most incredible foods (fried fiori di zucchine for example). Down the street from the flat was a small delicatessen that, among many other delights, sold both tiramisu and poached pears in foil pans. To this day, no tiramisu nor poached pear has ever been comparable, but my fond memories inspired me to try to poach pears at home with the following recipe which has been a family favourite ever since.
This recipe is directly out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Kitchen. I, however, would offer one adaptation to those of you who think cooking with an amazing $40 bottle of wine is absurd. I have very successfully made this desert with cheaper dry, full bodied red wines over the years. Call me a philistine, but I promise you that the result of using a more affordable wine (but never “cooking wine”) in this recipe will still “wow” whoever has been lucky enough to be invited to dinner. In fact, I used an Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon for this “batch”.
Red Wine Poached Pears with Crème Fraîche
2 vanilla pods
1 bottle Amarone (or another dry, full bodied red wine)
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 small cinnamon stick
1 orange, zest and juice of
1 small bunch fresh thyme
8 Comice pears, peeled and base removed
1 c. and 2 tbsp. butter
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Split the vanilla pods and remove the seeds. Put the seeds and pods into an appropriately sized casserole-type pan that will hold all your pears snugly, and add the wine, sugar, cinnamon, and orange juice and zest. Throw in your thyme, secured together in a little bunch with string. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer, and add your pears, sitting upright. Put the lid on the pan and bake in the preheated oven for around 1 hour until the pears are soft and tender but not falling apart. They should be soft all the way through but retain their shape. (Sometimes they can take less or more time depending on the ripeness of the pears.) When they’re ready they will have taken on the flavour and colour of the wine and should smell delicious.
By now the wine and the sugar will have thickened and the flavour will have intensified. Remove the pears to a dish, turn up the heat under the pan, and reduce the wine by about half. Remove from the heat and add the butter – agitate the pan but don’t give it any more heat. This will give you a really intense, tasty sauce which is to die for. Put the pears back in the pan and leave until ready to serve. The pears are best served warm with the sauce and a generous dollop of crème fraîche.