At this time of year, if we are lucky, our ancient and wonky pear tree comes up trumps and provides us with a couple of handfuls of pears. I've no idea of the variety but they have a lovely flavour however they are inclined to be a little hard so we tend to poach them. This is a good use of the bullet pears that you can buy from the supermarket as well.
I use two different recipes for poaching pears - spiced red wine or cider. The quantities in each recipe will poach about 4 pears in a small but deep pan but the liquor doesn't reduce that much so you could always do a second batch or double it up. I use very little sugar in my poaching liquid relying on the natural sweetness of the pears and this means that the end results can be used for both sweet and savoury dishes. They can be made up to 2 days in advance if kept in the fridge.
Spiced red wine recipe:
1/2 bottle of reasonable red wine
1 star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 can of cider or perry
1 cinnamon stick
1 large orange cut into quarters
A vanilla pod cut lengthways in half
1 tablespoon sugar.
Peel your pears and cut off the bottom level so that they sit flat. Use a small knife to dig out the small core in the bottom. Doing this helps the pears to cook evenly. Ideally you need the pears to sit in the poaching liquid up to their stalks but you can always use a flatter pan and just keep turning them so that they cook evenly and get an even colour. You want the pears to be only 'just cooked' i.e. still firm so test them with a cocktail stick or sharp knife. I then pack my pears into a measuring jug so that they are completely covered with the poaching liquid and allow them to cool overnight in the liquid. This gives them a great flavour and colour.
If you are planning on using the pears as part of a dessert then drain them from the poaching liquid, add another tablespoon of sugar to the liquid and cook on until you have reduced the liquid by half so that it is thick and syrupy. If you are using them in a savoury dish them freeze the liquid as it has a wonderful flavour and can be added to your mulled wine or cider at Christmas.
The sweet pears can be served warm or cold with the syrup, here decorated with spices and mallow petals and are they also great with a wonderful dollop of good quality vanilla ice-cream.
Pears also have a wonderful affinity with blue cheese and make a wonderful addition to a salad. Here we've used the classic combination of our lovely Maddocks Farm Treviso chicory (which balances the sweetness of the pears and richness of the cheese) spicy mustard and watercress; blue cheese; walnuts and olives. We've decorated it with pansy petals and radish flowers.