I know it's the time of year when everyone is trying really hard to watch what you eat. In fact, I'm sure most of you are still going strong on your new years resolutions to watch what you eat, how much you eat, and living an overall healthier life. Every year I find myself striving for similar goals and every year I succumb to my love of good eats. So this year I'm not swearing off sweets or fat or carbs or gluten. I'm going for balance and moderation.
I discovered my love of poached pears last year. I had heard of them before, but never tried it or thought to try it. One night last winter I got a craving for pears. They're one of my favorite fruits. I just love the sweet, grainy texture and juicy freshness of it. So I ran to the store, only to find out there were no ripe pears in sight. I didn't let that stop me. I bought a few thinking I would wait a day or two for them to ripen up. By the time I got home, however, I could no longer wait. And then I remembered poached pears. I was sure that if I cooked them, it wouldn't matter, and it didn't! So I hit the internet and I stumbled upon all sorts of recipes. Being a huge red wine lover, I decided to try it that way. Instead of following a recipe, I decided to throw in some of my own ingredients and see how it turned out. I did, however, decide that I must top my recipe with Michael Chiarello's mascarpone filling. HOLY FOOD HEAVEN is that stuff good!
So while it's not a completely "healthy" dessert (thanks to the mascarpone filling), it is a healthier option. All about moderation, right?! And lets be honest, it's a lot healthier than any of my usual dessert cravings (pretty much anything with chocolate and butter). Pears are fruit and fruit is healthy. Red wine is good for my heart, and well, mascarpone is dairy, which is good for my bones. So you see, I'm doing my body good! Slightly delusional, maybe - but you have to live a little!
red wine poached pears + vanilla bean mascarpone filling
yields 4 servings
for the pears:
4 bartlett pears slightly under ripened
1 bottle of cabernet sauvignon
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1½ c. water (or enough to cover pears in the pot)
½ vanilla bean
4 TBSP sugar
for the mascarpone filling:
adapted from michael chiarello
8 oz mascarpone - room temperature
½ vanilla bean
½ vanilla extract
3 TBSP half and half
2 TBSP powdered sugar
for the wine syrup (optional):
½ c. poaching liquid
3 tsp. granulated sugar
for the pears:
Peel, core, and cut pears in half lengthwise. In a pot large enough to fit the 8 pear halves, combine the wine, spices, sugar, pears and water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, until pears become fork tender. The cooking time will vary depending on the ripeness of the pears.
for the mascarpone cream:
Meanwhile, combine mascarpone, vanilla, sugar, and half and half into a mixing bowl and beat on high until it becomes smooth and creamy. Add more half and half if you want it to be a little bit thinner.
for the syrup:
reduce poaching liquid with sugar until it's halved in volume. basically, cook your mixture on medium-high for about 15 minutes until it thickens. drizzle over pears
Once pears are cooked, place a spoon full of the mascarpone cream on the pear and drizzle with the wine syrup. If you have leftover cream, save it for another batch of pears (trust me, you'll be making them again that week), or you could add it to your pancakes for a breakfast treat! Also, don't get rid of that poaching liquid. You can re-poach more pears in it or drink it as mulled wine another day!
there are a million ways to poach a pear. first of all, if you made the mulled wine and had leftovers, you could just poach the pears in that, adding enough water to cover the pears. you can use any kind of wine you prefer, zinfandel, chianti, even white wines or dessert wines... if you're trying to keep it booze free, think about poaching it in tea or fruit juice.
you can obviously leave out the mascarpone cream, or try making it with cream cheese or creme fraiche. if you don't have a vanilla bean you can leave it out and add a little more vanilla extract. you could even try adding a different flavor of extract here or perhaps some lemon zest would be really good, too. you could leave out the sauce all together and just do vanilla ice cream or sorbet.
for the poaching liquid, aside from changing the liquid you cook it in, you can also play with the spice mixture. love cinnamon? add 1 - 2 more sticks... don't have star anise? that's ok, leave it out! you could try putting in a few black pepper corns or go a different direction and add some orange zest or slices. get creative and play with it. it's pretty hard to mess this recipe up!