14 November 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Pearfectly Delicious

CHIAVARI, Italy - Bought some pears at the market the other day and they were so delicious I decided to buy a few more and make pears poached in red wine. I like really like this dessert. The pears turn a deep reddish purple color, are beautiful to see, delicious to eat and you can make it ahead of time. In fact, you have to make it ahead of time.
Kaiser Pears
It’s important to pick pears that are rather hard and not too ripe. I like to use Bosc pears – aka Kaiser pears -  because they have a good flavor and they hold their shape well when poached. It makes no difference if you choose to make pears poached in red wine or white wine, the directions are the same. If you do use white wine, I found that a dry Prosecco works very well. If you decide to use red wine, chose one that is full bodied like a Chianti, Sangiovese or even a Merlot or Cabernet.

Italians have been eating pears poached in wine since the days of the Renaissance. Back then there were very strict rules about when and how to eat fruit. Some fruits had to be eaten with other food, for example melon was to be eaten with cheese or meat. Melon with prosciutto is still one of Italy’s favorite dishes. As for children, doctors didn’t think should eat fruit at all. Prunes, pears and apples were thought to be hard to digest and were always served cooked. 
 Kaiser Pears Poached in Red Wine
Serve pears poached in red wine with a good amount of the cooking syrup. If you are using white wine, you can spoon a little melted chocolate over the top of each one. That combination is called Pere al Cioccolato Fondente in Italian and Poire Hélène in French.

The chocolate topping is super easy to do. Just break up a bar or two of good quality dark chocolate and let it slowly melt in a bagno-maria, which is nothing more than a pot or ceramic bowl set over another pot of simmering water. Put the pears in individual serving dishes and spoon a little of the chocolate syrup over the top of each one. Serve immediately.
 Pears Poached in White Wine
Here is the basic recipe partly taken from Maida Hearter’s Book of Great Deserts and partly from an article I found in the Observer, an English newspaper published in London.

Pears Poached in Red Wine
Serves 6-8
juice of 1 large lemon
3 cups of water
About 1kg Kaiser pears, (6 large or 8 small), rock hard with stems
750ml (1 bottle) full-bodied red wine  
400g/1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla pod or ¼ teaspoon vanilla

1. In a bowl big enough to hold the pears, put the 3 cups of water and half of the lemon juice. Using a swivel peeler, like a potato peeler, peel the pears, leaving the stems on, and put them in the lemon and water to keep them from turning brown.
2. In a large saucepan, mix the wine, sugar, vanilla and remaining lemon juice and bring to a soft boil. Boil for about 5 minutes to make a syrup. Stir often to dissolve the sugar. Place the pears in the syrup and adjust the heat so the syrup just simmers.
3. Cover the pot and cook the pears, turning them often using two rubber spatulas so you don’t bruise them. Cook the pears until they can be pierced easily with a cake tester. The length of time it takes for them to cook will depend on how big they are and how hard they are.  They should cook until they are tender, but not over cooked.
4. Transfer the pears to a large bowl, standing them upright if you can. Bring the syrup up to a boil again and let it boil for a couple of minutes to reduce it slightly. Then pour the syrup over the pears, and set them aside to cool. Every once in a while spoon the syrup over the pears. When they have cooled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Serve very cold with a generous amount of syrup.
Tip: It’s a good idea to cut a little off the bottom of the pears before you poach them so you can stand them up in the poaching liquid after they are cooked. 


  1. Grazie, Phyllis!! Love your Italian Journal Commentary. You may have recounted this, but how did you come to live in Italy??

  2. Hi Lena, thanks for the kind words. I knew I wanted to live in Italy the first time I visited. It took a while to get here, but it's the best decision I ever made.