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The Dutch would say, ‘zij is dol op stoofperen’ (If my Dutch is any good), meaning, ‘she is crazy about poached pears’.  And I am. As is my husband. And a few of our friends. Actually, many of our friends. They’re probably my most cooked fruit this season, along with kumquats and I estimate I’ve bought at least 10 kilos of the fruit and cheap too. Good reason to buy fruit in season, eh!

IMG_8964So when I read of Meeta’s Monthly Mingle, with its Winter fruits and vegetables theme, I knew exactly what to send on to Sudeshna of Cook like a Bong, who is hosting: A creamy rice pudding, served with warm pears and syrup and pear toffees with chocolate, perfect for any day of the year!

MMBadge-Jan2010I’ve also made a delicious tarte tatin of them, though the photos are not worthy and this morning for breakfast we had a warm meal of tea-smoked mackerel, poached pears, toast and a sour cream and horseradish sauce. Stunning. The sweetness of the pears went nicely with the oily, black-peppered smoked mackerel flakes. In turn, the horseradish cream and its slight heat and tartness cut through the rich oiliness of the fish. All together, a well-balanced, somewhat hearty brekkie!

IMG_0469Pears are in season from from autumn through to winter. When buying them, especially for cooking, it is best to select slightly under-ripe fruit which are firm but not hard. These will hold their shape better during the cooking process.

Everytime I poach them, I learn something new or find a process that’s a keeper, like:

  • Use only wine – not a mix of wine and water, because you get more vibrant, intense hues with wine alone. And on that still, I also prefer to make them with a young, fruity red, like this Tempranillo from Navarra.
  • Make a whole batch……you won’t regret it. The first few times I poached pears, I cooked up a small batch and then did the same the following night. Now I have to waste, seriously especially if I’m paying for gas and electricity so I poach a whole pot and then store in Kilner jars in the refrigerator. I can tell you that they keep very well. Everytime I need some, I take a few out, pop in the microwave and warm them.
  • You can always throw in a few secret ingredients. Last week, I learnt there are some ingredients, which are an absolute must in the poaching liquids – star anise and cardamom pods! Now this for me was an issue because I’m not crazy about star anise or anything anise….except fennel! On the other hand, I love cardamom pods. I have them in my coffee, in my tarte tatin, in all my Indian meals, with rice and so when the recommendation came from Nico, a former chef who now works at Sligro, I decided to give it a try.

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  • Use the opportunity to poach other things like kumquats. When poached, though they retain some of their tartness, there is also a sweet, smooth quality to the mush that the interior becomes and I just love it. I also use wide strips of orange and lemon, which I EAT when poached. I keep thinking I should make orangettes of them but I haven’t quite gotten there yet.

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The Gieser Wildeman pear is the most common cooking pear in the Netherlands. It is an excellent, firm-fleshed, brownish-yellow pear , which is not suitable for out-of-hand eating.

Top tip: It is best to core the pears regardless of whether you leave them whole, halved or quartered. That way, they take on even colour throughout the fruit pieces. When you leave the cores in while you poach, you end up with a  light coloured core. And I also saw Michel Roux Jr say to a guy on Masterchef Professional, ‘you didn’t core your pears? So….I’ve learnt.

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Tip #2 – Use your vegetable peeler to get strips of zest off your lemons and oranges

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First off, here is the recipe for poached pears.

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1.5 kg Small gieser wildeman pears, peeled leaving the stalks on.
750ml red wine
3 teaspoons red poaching sugar (Optional)
1 and a 1/2 cups brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla powder or 1 whole vanilla pod, seeds scraped out and pod reserved
2 cinnamom sticks
Strips of ½ an orange
Strips of ½ a lemon
Pinch of salt
1 star anise
Crushed seeds of 10 cardamom pods

If you’re not a wine fan, my Swedish friends have used ligonberry juice. I’ve also read of tea-poached versions, honey and water mixes, green mint liqueur  and loads of other alternatives. Please go for the one which suits you the most.

IMG_9009 How to

Essentially dump all the ingredients, save for the pears in a large pot (which has a cover) and bring to the boil, stirring to ensure the sugar is dissolved.

Then add pears and give a good stir.

Now a lot of recipes suggest the poaching liquid should cover the pears but I’m not fussed about that because the mixture bubbles up throughout cooking and as long as you give it a good stir ever so often, you should have good, rich colour.

Taste the liquid and adjust to suit your desires.

Let poach for 30-40 minutes and turn off the heat.

Give a good stir and leave to sit overnight. This allows the pears soften and absorb a load of the poaching liquid.

After the ‘rest’, store in clean kilner jars in the fridge, poaching liquid and all and use as needed.

You will need every drop of the poaching liquid so don’t discard even a drop of it.

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The Offering:

1) Poached pear  with almond rice pudding (reminds me of what I had in denmark with cherries)

This recipe is modelled on a traditional danish dessert, Ris a l’amande – a thick and creamy rice pudding with whipped cream, almonds and vanilla, which I had in Copenhagen a few weeks ago. It was served with whole cherries in syrup and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

IMG_4245Ingredients

40g butter
250g risotto rice (I used Arborio)
1/2 – 1 cup of caster sugar
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 wineglass of white whine
1.5 litres milk
50g raw, flaked almonds, crushed by hand
1/4 cup cream (optional)

How to

One way to quickly cook a rice pudding is to make it as you would a risotto and then allow it simmer with more milk, till the rice is cooked and soft.

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  1. In a high-sided pot or pan, melt the butter on low heat.
  2. Add rice to the pan, along with caster sugar and the lemon zest.
  3. Turn the heat to medium and add the white wine and vanilla extract, stirring until the wine has almost cooked away (about 3 minutes)
  4. Add the milk in portions (about 3/4 of a cup) each time, stirring till the milk is absorbed and then adding more, till you’ve used up about a litre of the milk, simmering the mixture over low heat 30 minutes.
  5. Then add the almonds and the remaining 500ml of milk and leave to simmer on low heat, till the rice is soft, smooth, creamy, with a bit of almond bite.

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The creamy smells should have you soaring high and hurrying it to cool down. If not, send it on over to me :-)!

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When ready, warm up the pears and poaching liquid and ladle some poaching syrup onto a plate.

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Carefully plate up a portion of rice pudding and top with the poached pear.

IMG_0482 Garnish with mint leaves, if you can find a spot for them! I couldn’t :-) and I didn’t have any, so I didn’t!

IMG_0485The combination works well. I found the rice not overly sweet, though I think a tad more sweetness wouldn’t hurt at all. It was creamy without being cloying thick, nutty from the almonds  with soft and full-flavoured spiced pears. One thing I think could work very well is to reduce the syrup just a bit by boiling, so as to deepen the spicy flavours of the poaching ingredients. Overall, I enjoyed it and think this would make a great make ahead dessert, especially for large company as all of the individual elements are easy to make ahead and keep very well. Worth a repeat.

2) Pear Toffees

This simple but fabulous recipe comes from the 2008  Christmas monthly magazine of C1000, one of my local supermarkets. It think it is a great recipe, which also works well with apples! All you do is wrap some pears in filo, bake and garnish with melted chocolate! The original recipe used apples but naturally for me, it had to be pears, for I think my apple season is over!

Ingredients
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 sheets of Filo pastry (mine were about 40 X 20 xm)
4 poached pear halves
4 teaspoons ginger jam
50g (milk/plain) chocolate, melted

Tips:
  1. Be sure to read the instructions on the filo pastry pack. If using from frozen, the lead time needed to bring it to usable temperatures can be lengthy. Don’t make a mistake I’ve made many times….though not this time.
  2. Check your local Turkish or Greek shop for fantastic refrigerator filo (the same pastry they use to make their baklavas. My dough came from a Turkish shop which I frequent for may things – yoghurt etc.. and this was AMAZING filo. The best I’ve ever used!

How to

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade (about 400 degrees fahrenheit)

Stack and fold the 2 sheets of filo, and cut into 3 parts. (I ended up with 6 long strips, I used 4 and returned the other 2 to the pack)

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Brush 2 halved layers of filo with the melted butter

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Put a teaspoon of ginger jam about 1/3 of the way from one end and then place the poached pear on top.

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Roll the filo and turn the ends as they do to toffee wrappers :-).

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Place on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for about 12-15 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp.

IMG_0534Place the melted chocolate in a ziploc and cut a tiny bit of one end.

IMG_0539Zigzag the warm chocolate over the toffees.

IMG_0540Almost ready…..

IMG_0544All that’s left is perhaps….

IMG_0550A cup of coffee…or tea!IMG_0553Have you had your poached pears this winter? What did it taste like?

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