Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Pears Are Poaching

Six Christmases ago, I set out to find something a bit lighter for the holidays.  With a family as large as ours, everyone tries to share in the cooking responsibility and we each bring a dish.  This Christmas in particular, I was watching what I ate and wanted to find something that would be festive but healthy.

Since then, it has become a tradition.  Even the once reluctant now come back for seconds.  The sweet pears taste a bit more like dessert, reminiscent of apple pie, than the grainy bits you pick out of canned fruit cocktail.  

We cook for a crowd, but these last for several days.  I plan to make cheese blintzes with them, if any are left over.

12 pounds of seckel pears
3 lemons
1 bottle of moscato wine
1 1/4 cups of honey

And as many able-handed people as you can find in the house!

Note:  You don't have to use seckel pears.  We've bought them at Sam's this year under the name of "sugar pears."  I've bought all different types - the key is, you want them to be semi-firm.  The soft ones will just mush, so don't bother with them.

Juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl.

Peel, cut in half (top to bottom), and core the pears.  I use a melon baller to pop the core out and a tiny paring knife to pull out the fibrous core that runs the length of it.  As each pear is prepped, add to the bowl of lemon juice to prevent browning. 

Pour the bottle of moscato wine into a stock pot.  (Moscato is cheap.  You can find it at Trader Joe's and Sam's.  I think most grocery stores carry it as well.  If you can't find it, substitute a fruity white wine - Riesling, Gewurztraminer, etc.)

Fill the bottle back up twice with water, adding the volume to the pot as well.  (So the ratio of water to wine will be 2:1, in case you need to alter the recipe for your family's size).

To the water and wine mixture, add honey, whole cinnamon sticks, and split vanilla beans (run the tip of a sharp knife down the length of the bean - no need to scrape, it will simmer out on its own).  

Add the pears, leaving the lemon juice in the bowl.  Watch out for those pesky seeds.  Cover the pears with a circle of parchment, if you have it, laid directly on the top layer.  I have used a dinner plate that fits into the pot or a pie plate.  

Simmer until knife-tender - around 10 - 15 minutes for small pears.

Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl.  Turn the heat up on the poaching liquid and simmer until reduced and syrupy.  

Cool the syrup, then pour over cooked peaches.  Refrigerate up to 24 hours in advance (the longer they sit, the better they taste!)

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