By Paul E. Stern
I ate my first poached pear at a bed-and-breakfast in New Hampshire and was impressed with how elegant yet simple it was. Later, as I poached some myself, I realized how easily the basic (and classic) recipe can be modified with a variety of toppings or flavors, making it suitable as a morning starter or as an evening dessert.
Here’s an almond-flavored version that’s low in fat, plenty sweet, but also a reasonably conservative 280 calories per serving. (That’s an approximation, because some of the sugar used in the poaching liquid is left behind in the pot.) I’ve also included a variant that uses wine instead of water.
4 ripe Bosc pears of medium size, with stems 6oz granulated sugar 3oz raisins 1oz lemon juice 1 tsp. almond extract 2 tbsp. almond liqueur, optional Topping: 1/2oz slivered almonds 6oz plain yogurt 1oz to 2oz honey
Step 1: Peel the pears, preferably by taking off long strips. These will later curl up in the bottom of the serving dish. I use Bosc pears because they are tall and firm, even when ripe, and because their skin has a rough and rustic texture. You can use any pear you like – just make sure it is ripe but not soft.
Step 2: Cut off the round bottom of each pear so it will stand up properly.
Step 3: Place the peeled pears on their sides in a deep pot and cover them with cold water.* Add the peels, sugar, raisins, lemon juice, and almond extract.
*Optional: If you want to spend the money on a bottle of wine – red or white, whichever you prefer – you may substitute it for the water. Red wine will infuse the pears with its color (quite a “wow” factor), but it will also change the flavor profile. In that case, you might want to lose the almond theme and go with the more traditional cinnamon.
Step 4: Simmer the pears slowly until they are cooked through but not mushy. This will take anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on the type and ripeness of your pears.
Step 5: While the pears are cooking, prepare the yogurt topping by stirring in the honey. You may adjust the sweetness to your preference by adding more or less, of course. You may also use sugar if you don’t have or like honey, or sour cream if you don’t like yogurt.
Step 6: Toast the almond slivers by tossing them in a dry pan until they are golden brown and aromatic. Do not walk away from the pan during this process, since the slivers can burn in the time it takes you to change channels on the TV.
Step 7: Remove the pears carefully from the pot, using a slotted spoon.
Step 8: Add the almond liqueur and continue to cook off the liquid in the pot until it reduces to a syrup that will coat the back of a spoon. (If you want to speed up this process, move the sauce to a wide sauté pan, maximizing the evaporation.)
Step 9: Serve the pears in individual serving dishes or on a platter, then spoon over the syrup with the raisins and pieces of peel. Just before service, spoon on the yogurt topping and sprinkle the almond pieces so they stick to the sides of the pears.
This dish may be served warm, at room temperature, or cold.
About the Author:
Paul Stern is a part-time chef and freelance writer from Connecticut who enrolled in culinary school after 35 years as a journalist at newspapers from Fort Lauderdale to Hartford. In addition to cooking, his interests include helping his wife convert a 300-year-old house into a bed-and-breakfast.