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Pear Shadows, by Nancy Merkle.

Recipe below: Pears Poached with Red Wine, Rosemary, and Vanilla

It sure is quiet out on the street. January tends to be a slow month in Manhattan, but this is ridiculous. The only real action I see is from Amazon delivery people. I really need to cook something with movement.   

My usual approach to winter cooking, especially now that it’s pandemic winter cooking, is to keep it vibrating. Produce may not feel completely alive this time of year, but I still want to create living, breathing culinary art. It takes concentration. A game I play is to choose favorite flavors, intense delicious flavors, and work them in a way that makes whatever other ingredients I use just wake up. Red wine, vanilla, and rosemary are three of my vibration flavors. I find them beautiful alone or blended. Here I’ve used all three to poach California pears.

I knew the flavors would be right, but still I had to locate my pears. I looked for ones that felt firm but still smelled like pear. They weren’t easy to find. Bartletts smelled like pear but were too soft to poach. I didn’t want to wind up with mush.  The brownish-skinned Bosc were solid hard and smelled oddly like a doctor’s office (or like the faux leather couch in a doctor’s office). I decided on Red Anjou, which were firm but alive in aroma and true pear character.

This dessert tastes excellent, and I love its look, too. The pears tint up pinky red, and the reduced wine syrup shines glossy like a ruby gem. I served the pears with sweetened mascarpone, but crème fraîche, ricotta, or vanilla ice cream would have been nice, too.

Happy winter Covid cooking to you.

Pears Poached with Red Wine, Rosemary, and Vanilla

(Serves 6)

6 ripe but firm pears (I used Anjou), preferably with their stems attached
1 750-ml bottle red wine (I used Côtes du Rhône, and it worked fine)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large rosemary sprigs, plus 6 sprigs for garnish
1 mandarin orange, cut into quarters
1 cup sugar
A pinch of salt

For the mascarpone:
1½ cups mascarpone, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peel the pears, leaving their stems intact if they have them. If you like, core them with an apple corer. That make them easier to eat, but I didn’t bother, plus I didn’t have an apple corer.

Put the pears in a big, wide pot. I used a pasta pot, but anything wide enough so the pears fit in without sitting on top of one another. Add the wine, and then add enough water to cover the pears. Add the vanilla bean and extract, rosemary, orange, sugar, and salt.

Turn the heat to high, and bring it all to a boil. Turn the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the pears are tender when poked with something thin and long, like a wooden skewer, which is what I used. Depending on your pears, this may go fast or may take a while. My Anjous needed about an hour. At the end your pears should be a beautiful, consistent light red color, and the poaching liquid should smell like sweet wine but more complex.

Delicately, so as not to bruise them, lift the pears out of the wine bath with a slotted spoon, and onto a platter.

Now you’ll want to reduce the wine. Turn the heat to medium high, and let it bubble away. It will probably take about a half hour, but keep an eye on it. You don’t want to reduce it to a hardball stage; you just want a nice thick, pourable syrup. Once it starts shimmering with big bubbles and coats a spoon, it’s ready.  Next you’ll want to pour it through a fine strainer into a small pot to remove all the bits of rosemary and things. I retrieved the vanilla bean to use as garnish, cutting it into shorter pieces. Let the liquid cool. It will get thicker as it cools.

Mix the mascarpone with the sugar and vanilla extract.

When you’re ready to serve, pour any liquid your pears have released from the plate into the syrup. Reheat the syrup, not to boiling hot but just warm enough to loosen it some and make it glossy. Place each pear in a small bowl, and pour some syrup over the top. Garnish with a piece of the vanilla bean, if you like, and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Plop a heaping tablespoon or so of the mascarpone next to each pear. Serve.

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