Tuesday, December 23, 2014
When the “Happy Holidays” challenge was announced on The Taste, I immediately thought: Lobster! Duck! Roast beef! Turkey!
Well, not really, since I don’t eat the latter three things on that list. Though I did briefly consider making lobster, which I completely adore; my lobster bisque is one of my all-time favorite dishes on the blog, hands down. (Meeting the meat not required.)
Rather, I decided to make my red wine spiced poached pears, which allowed me to showcase the healthier side of holiday eating and my love of French cuisine. It’s always a risk doing sweets on the show since the chefs generally prefer savory. But poached pears are not a sticky, sugary dessert—and my version even less so given its pairing with tangy goat cheese cream, tart blackberries, and spicy-sweet candied pistachios.
A beautiful and elegant addition to your holiday table, poached pears boast the seasonal colors and flavors that everyone loves. And they smell absolutely divine while cooking. But don’t get me wrong, now: I love my Christmas cookies, just like everyone else (and you can visit my recipes page for those). Go ahead, serve some on the side if you wish. Yet, I find that poached fruit hits the perfect note at the end of a meal, especially welcomed amidst the heavy eating of the holidays. It’s a special dessert that really is one of my favorite things to make at Christmas.
I hope you love it, too, and I wish you all the best for a season filled with love and laughter, joy and peace.
Red Wine Poached Pears
- 6 pears, ripe but firm
- 1 bottle red Zinfandel wine
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 5 cloves
- 5 star anise
- 10 green cardamom pods
- 1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 cup white sugar
- Pinch salt
- 12 blackberries
- Lime, zested, for garnish
- Goat cheese cream
- Candied pistachios
1. Prepare the pears. Use a knife to crush the cardamom pods (the shells should break but not fall apart). Bring wine, sugar, spices, and salt up to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. (Ruby Port also works well in this recipe, but you’ll need less sugar in that case.) In the meantime, peel pears. Whether you slice the pear or keep it whole is up to you: I like cutting them to maximize the surface area between the fruit and wine, but a single small pear left whole, like a Seckel, makes a stunning presentation. It just depends on the event, my mood, and which variety I find that determines what I do. If you do slice them, remove the seeds using a 1/2 teaspoon. I used Comice in this recipe, since those looked the best at the market. They are big pears, hence the quarters (really, sixths).
2. Poach the pears. Place the pears in the poaching liquid and simmer for about 15-30 minutes. Time varies depending on the size of the pear and how firm/ripe it was to begin with. Watch carefully, since you don’t want them to become baby food. (Unless you have a baby. But they probably shouldn’t be eating this dish). When a sharp knife is easily inserted, you’re good to go. By all means, give one a taste to make sure.
When the pears are cooked, remove them from the liquid. If I’m in a rush to serve them, I will sometimes put them in the fridge for a bit to cool down. These are best enjoyed at room temperature, though, so keep that in mind whenever you’re serving them. While the pears are cooling, turn up the heat and reduce the poaching liquid until it becomes a delectable sauce; you’ll know it’s ready once you have trouble stopping “tasting.”
3. Candy the pistachios. While the pears are poaching, make up a batch of spicy-sweet nuts following the recipe here. Or, better yet, make the nuts days in advance and store them in the refrigerator to ensure they stay crunchy.
4. Whip the goat cheese cream. You need just four ingredients for this dreamy dessert topping, which takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. Follow the recipe here. (The lime zest is just for show since I’m using it in the dessert itself.) And do make sure the topping is at room temperature when serving, not cold, to maximize the taste and texture.
5. Plate the dish. Place a few pears into a dessert bowl and spoon a tablespoon or so of the reduced poaching liquid onto the pears. (Don’t forget to strain the solid spices from the mixture; no need to ruin a perfectly lovely holiday gathering with having to perform the Heimlich.) Slice a few blackberries onto the pears, then dollop the cream atop the mixture. Finish with a zest of lime and a few candied pistachios.
Serve, and wait for applause.