Today’s recipe is one of my favorites and a go-to when I want to serve a spectacular dessert, especially for holiday parties. I posted it last year about this time and thought you would appreciate seeing it again because I think it is the perfect dessert for New Year’s Eve. One of this country’s best cookbook authors is Alfred Portale, executive chef of Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City. This dessert is from his Twelve Seasons Cookbook. There are some cookbook authors that write nearly perfect recipes, complete, easy to understand, and virtually foolproof. Portale is one of those for me. I have all of his cookbooks and I can make anything from them, confident that it will turn out exactly the way I want it to.
These pears are incredibly easy to make and yet they look like something Wolfgang Puck would serve at his post-Oscars bash. I was surprised at how clearly the flavor of the pears comes through the poaching liquid. I would have thought the delicate flavor would be overwhelmed, but it isn’t. The addition of the mascarpone is optional, but I think it adds just the right touch of creaminess that gives you all of the textures for a balanced plate.
The first time I made these I had an opened bottle of wine, and didn’t want to open another one, so I used what I had available and increased the orange juice to make up the 5-1/4 cups total liquid needed in the recipe. You could also use apple juice or even cranberry juice instead of the wine. With cranberry you will want to increase the sugar slightly to offset the tartness. And if white wine is more to your liking, you could certainly use that too – a nice clean Sauvignon Blanc or a sweet Moscato would be wonderful.
The recipe calls for chopped pistachio nuts. They are a festive green and ideal for the holidays, but you can substitute any nuts you have on hand. I think candied pecans would be fantastic too plus you could serve them as a snack, include them in salads, and package them up for gifts. This dessert doesn’t need to be limited to just the holidays. With their gorgeous ruby color, these would be perfect for Valentine’s Day too!
Many recipes for wine poached pears tell you to leave them whole and use a melon baller to scoop out the core and seeds from the bottom. You can use this technique if you like to, and it certainly makes a grand presentation when you stand the pears upright in some of the poaching liquid. But I like serving them already cut in half because they are more approachable and much easier for your guests to eat. Even though they are fork tender, serve them with a knife so everyone can cut bite-sized pieces easily. You don’t want the poaching liquid to splash on anyone’s clothing.
Making the granita (flavored ice crystals) is totally optional, you could also serve these with vanilla ice cream, but the granita is a great way to use the extra poaching liquid. You can make this separately and use it for another dessert or even as a palate cleanser between courses. The leftover poaching liquid would also wonderful used to make a seasoned jam like the one I serve with my smoked duck appetizers – it would be a crime to throw away the delicious liquid!
After stews, braises, and other heavy winter dishes, this light dessert is delightful. Elegant, refreshing, and just sweet enough without being cloying, it is the perfect ending to any meal. And just think, it qualifies as one of your daily servings of fruit too, LOL! I hope you will enjoy these as much as I do.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Poach the pears and make the mascarpone a day ahead. Hold them separately in the refrigerator. Bring them out when you serve dinner and they will be at the perfect temperature when you are ready to serve dessert.
To make the string of hearts on the plate above, place a few drops spaced a bit apart on the sauce. Using a sharp object such as a toothpick, wooden skewer, or even the tip of a knife, draw it through the drops, dragging some of the dark liquid (in this case the poaching liquid) along and into the next drop.
Kitchen Skill: Poaching
Poaching is simply cooking foods gently in a liquid bath, often water, milk, stock, or wine, until tender. Because it is especially effective for delicate foods, keeping the temperature at a low simmer is essential.
- Pears and Granita
- 3-3/4 cups (one 750-ml bottle) Cabernet Sauvignon or other full-body wine
- 1-1/2 cups fresh orange juice
- 1 tbsp grated orange zest
- 1-1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 firm Bartlett pears (Bosc or Anjou work nicely too), peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored *
- Mascarpone Filling
- 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1 tbsp powdered sugar, or to taste
- 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp coarsely chopped, toasted pistachio nuts
- Fresh mint leaves for garnish
- In a saucepan, combine the wine, orange juice, both zests, sugar, vanilla bean, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Add the pears and poach for about 10 to 15 minutes, until tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, turning them over halfway through cooking. Lift the pears from the pan with a slotted spoon and place carefully in a separate container.
- Strain the poaching liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Measure 1/2 cup of the liquid and pour it over the pears (reserve remaining liquid). Cover and refrigerate pears.
- Pour the reserved liquid into a shallow, metal pan and set it aside to cool. When cool, freeze for about 1 hour, or until the mixture is partially frozen and icy around the edges. Using a large spoon, break up the iced edges and stir them into the center. Freeze for about 1 hour longer and repeat the process. Let the granita freeze for about 2 hours or overnight. Before serving, scrape it into large crystals with a fork.
- In a small bowl, gently whisk together the mascarpone cheese and sugar. Spoon the sweetened cheese into a pastry bag fitted with a #3 plain tip (or you can use a spoon).
- Remove pears from the refrigerator and place each pear half in a shallow soup plate, sliced side up. Pipe a little of the sweetened mascarpone cheese into the space where the cores were in the pears. Place a small scoop of the granita next to the pears. Pour a little of the reserved poaching liquid around the pear. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and garnish with mint leaves. Serve immediately.
- These pears can be prepared a day in advance. Let sit out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before assembling and serving. The granita can also be enjoyed by itself another time.
- * If you prefer a more dramatic presentation, leave the pears whole and plan on serving 1 pear per person. Use a melon baller or a very small spoon to scoop out the core from the bottom of each pear. If needed, take a thin slice off the bottom so that they stand straight without being wobbly.