Sunday, February 20, 2011

Luscious Pears

Pears are such beautifully elegant fruits. The way they hang from the tree, so voluptuously, tempting you so seductively. I mean, look at that shape! (Reminds me a little of myself). 

Anyway, did you know that there are over 3,000 varieties of pears around the world? The most popular ones here in the U.S. are likely varieties you've heard of before: Bosc, Bartlett, and Anjou, but how about Comice, Concorde, Forelle, Seckel, and Starkrimson? They are new to me and I'll be trying to find some the next time I'm at the farmer's market.

Pears are not only delicious but super healthy and make a great snack. With only 100 calories a piece, they have no fat and a whopping 6 grams of fiber! They are a bit high in sugar, but are certainly a better choice than these pre-packaged "100 calorie" treat bags you can buy of cookies and other junk that aren't nearly as full of energy, enzymes and nutrition as these babies.

But which pears are best for which purpose? Most of those I've researched work great as is, or can hold up to cooking. The Anjou pear is great for snacking, cooking, and slicing into salads; the Bartlett is creamy, sweet and aromatic and is good fresh, canned, or added to a salad; the Bosc is honey sweet and great fresh or in cooking; the Comice is a dessert pear and is best paired with a good cheese for an after-dinner snack; the Concorde is vanilla sweet and can be heated or eaten fresh. You get the idea.

Pears are an elegant addition to salads. I like adding slices along with a strong creamy cheese, such as a bleu or gorgonzola, and a sprinkling of walnuts to a bed of lovely greens dressed with a champagne vinaigrette. Super. A really nice elegant simple salad.

I also like unfussy desserts that are not too sweet and pears, with their natural fruit sugar, are great just simply poached. Sometimes you'll see recipes for poached pears served alongside a dessert sauce called Creme Anglaise. It's an incredible sauce but takes a bit more time to prepare. The following recipe is just for the pears. Simple. Unfussy.

Poached Pears

1 lemon
3 cups red wine
1 cinnamon stick, 4 inches long
1/2 cup sugar
4 large perfumed pears (preferably Anjou)

Wash the lemon and wipe dry. Remove the zest in long strips, reserve the pulp for another use. Pour the wine into a large saucepan. Stir in the lemon zest, cinnamon stick and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Peel the pears, leaving them whole and the stem intact. Arrange on their sides in a flameproof deep-sided dish big enough to hold them without overlapping. Pour the wine mixture over them and poach for 20 minutes over gentle heat, turning often.

Drain the pears and set aside in a bowl. Boil the cooking liquid over high heat until reduced to about 1 cup of fragrant syrup. Remove the zest and cinnamon. Coat the pears with the wine syrup and let cool. Refrigerate for a few hours if you wish. I prefer them at room temperature.

Serves 4.

Variation: make the recipe with a sweet white wine such as a Riesling if you don't care for red wine or wish to keep the color intact (red wine will dye them purple).

For more pears recipes, check out this website. Rather a lot to choose from!

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