Bartletts, Boscs, Anjous, Comices—all are among the glorious varieties of pears omnipresent in our fall markets. I've been thinking about pears this week because on Oct 4th I'll be showing students how to poach pears in red wine and spices. (To find out how you can join the cooking class, click here.) Bartletts, which change from green to a gorgeous yellow when ripe, are perfect for eating raw or canning. Long, slender, and russet hued, Boscs are the right choice for cooking since they hold their shape well. Anjous, available in either green or red shades, are tasty all-purpose pears. Comices, more rounded and typically green, often with a red blush, are considered the best pear for savoring uncooked. (The Pear Bureau Northwest, a nonprofit marketing organization has a great website with photos and details about these and other varieties of pears.)
In the autumn I use pears in myriad ways. When perfectly ripened and juicy, they are without equal for a “guilt-free” treat or an irresistible addition to a salad composed of mixed greens, bits of blue cheese, and walnuts. Sometimes I cut pears into wedges, drizzle them with olive oil and a few drops of balsamic, then roast them to bring out their sweetness. Prepared this way they make an excellent garnish to pork or chicken. But, my favorite way to utilize pears is to poach them gently in wine scented with aromatic spices.
In the following recipe, adapted from one I sampled at the Paris Cordon Bleu, whole pears are cooked slowly until tender in a fragrant mixture of red wine, cassis (black currant liqueur) sugar, spices, vanilla, and fresh mint. For poaching, it’s best if the pears are just slightly under-ripe as they will become soft as they simmer in the flavorful liquids. These glistening, deep crimson pears, served warm with scoops of vanilla ice cream, and a sprig of mint, make a striking presentation. I like to use Boscs because of their sleek tapered silhouette, but, of course, you might like to try some of those other types.
These pears are going to be the grand finale at my class at Different Drummer's Kitchen in Northampton, Ma. (Of course there are a couple of tricks that I can't tell you here, but that I'll be showing my students!)
Fall Pears Poached in Red Wine, Cassis, and Spices
6 Bosc pears, just slightly under-ripe
One 750 ml bottle red wine
1 cup sugar
Juice and grated zest of 1 large navel orange
Juice and grated zest of 1 large thick-skinned lemon
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise with seeds removed and saved for another use
2 star anise, crushed slightly
2 whole cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves lightly packed, roughly chopped plus 6 sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup cassis (black currant liqueur available where wine and spirits are sold)
1 pint best quality vanilla or ginger ice cream
Cut a slice from the bottom of each pear so that it will stand upright without wobbling. Then peel the pears with a vegetable peeler, leaving their stems on.
Place the wine, sugar, and orange and lemon zests and juices in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and bring to a gentle boil. Add vanilla bean (but not the seeds), star anise, cloves, and cinnamon; cook a minute more Then stir in the mint and cassis.
Add the pears and bring mixture to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat, and cook at a gentle simmer until the pears are deep crimson and tender when pierced with a knife, 25 to 40 minutes or longer, depending on the ripeness of the pears. Turn pears several times as they poach. (Pears can be poached 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat, uncovered, over medium heat to warm.)
Serve each pear on a dessert plate napped with a little of the sauce. Garnish with a scoop of ice cream and a mint sprig. Serves 6.