25 May 2011

Poached pears in mulled wine syrup

I rarely drink alcohol, but I love cooking with wine! This is one of my favourite dishes when the pears come into season.

Thing is, I don't have one hard and fast recipe, or even quantities of ingredients. I cook to taste, to suit my mood, what's in my cupboard, how much time I have... so I find it hard to settle on one version of this dish to post. I don't like to reduce things. Well, except sauces and poaching liquids. I'll reduce the hell outta them ;)

So go with your own tastes, especially when it comes to spices, sugar and orange. Remember clove is strong and so is star anise; if not used to spices, only use one or two cloves and a bit of a star anise.

Cab Sav or Merlot (or whichever red wine you have available)
A couple of Cinnamon sticks (or more if you like)
A few Cloves
A few Cardamom pods
1 Star Anise (any more will overpower the dish; use less if making a small serve)
Thick slices of Ginger
Bay leaf
Vanilla pod or two, split
Oranges (or orange juice)
Mascarpone for serving (you can scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pods and mix them with the mascarpone if you fancy)

Take four pears (or however many will fit comfortably in your saucepan and stomach). Slice across the bottom so that they will sit upright in the saucepan. Peel them, but leave the stems on. (the alternative method is to core them, reserving the stems for decoration later).

Slice the oranges, or juice them - or juice one or two, then slice another. I tend to usually juice them, then slice off thin shavings of the peel, avoiding the pith.

Place pears, wine, orange juice, peel, and spices in a saucepan. Ideally you want a saucepan which will is taller than the pears standing up, and not have too much empty space around them which needs to be filled with liquid. You don't have to use a whole bottle of wine; I usually use about half or less to cook two or three pears. If there isn't enough liquid, you can add water - you'll only reduce it later. If the pears are too tall, you can cook them on their sides and turn them every few minutes. You can add sugar to taste at this point, but remember the liquid will get sweeter as it reduces. I usually add at least a couple of tablespoons now (sometimes a lot more, depending on the wine), and then add more later if needed. Generally the more sugar you use, the more syrup you'll end up with.

Simmer until pears are soft; this could take ten minutes to half an hour, depending on your pears, your patience and how soft you consider to be 'soft'. If the liquid reduces in this time, don't top it up, it'll just take longer to reduce after. Just roll the pears over on their side and turn every few minutes to get an even ruby colour.

once they are cooked, take them out. You can keep them somewhere warm or just set them aside. Take the peel out. And the star anise out too. And the other spices if you think their flavour is infused enough for your taste. Then add some more sugar if it's not already quite sweet, and boil it. For as long as it takes to reduce right down. For me, it's reduced enough when it can coat the back of a spoon, though that is deliciously dangerously close to the point where it becomes a kind of sticky mulled wine soft candy.

Coat your pears in this; it should pool around the base but also leave a lovely syrupy residue on them. Serve with a big dollop of mascarpone.

Oh and if you got fancy and cored the pears first, fill the holes with mascarpone instead and stick the stem back in the top. :)