Winter is by definition a time for reflection. The misty fog that floats faintly across the flat river waters of Haarlem seem to cover my thoughts like a blanket lately. Not only that — I find every possible reason I can imagine to stay inside. With cooking as my chosen form of meditation, I have been passing this quiet time indoors studying many a traditional Dutch culinary habit — spiced red pears being one of them. There is something about the perfume of simmering red wine drifting through the house that makes enduring the short days and dark-dark nights of December so much more than simply acceptable.
I won’t fill the page today with stories of things past, nor will I write about the interesting relationships between cultural traditions of northern Europe and those of America or even Italy. Perhaps I will undertake more writing of that kind in the new year. . . . only time will tell.
Before proceeding with the simple description of this natural winter treat, I do want to explain that I discovered that soaking the pears in wine overnight not only deepens their color — it also improves the texture of the pears once cooked. The flavors of the ingredients soak deeper into the flesh of the fruit and the result is much more impressive than when simply stewing them in wine for a short time.
This is the kind of detail I happen upon while hibernating through the winter in the kitchen . . . .
- 4-8 Comice pears . or any locally grown stewing pear
- one organic lemon . or a bergamot if you can find one
- one cinnamon stick
- 400 ml fruity red wine . my choice was Cannonau of Sardegna
- 50 ml organic raw honey
Wash and peel the pears to the very top of their stems and place them in a bowl. (If you feel up to it — put the peels in a pan until just barely covered with water and cook them at a simmer for about 30 minutes. Then drain the ingredients in a seive — you then have your own pear juice to mix with some mineral water.)
Squeeze over the juice of a lemon (or bergamot) as you are peeling the fruit, to keep them from discoloring. Put the pears in a pan just large enough to hold the fruit, making sure to add the lemon juice as well as the squeezed lemon halves. Pour your favorite dry red wine over them until only the stems are visible. Drizzle the honey over the pears and tuck in a cinnamon stick. Marinate the pears at room temperature overnight. The citrus, cinnamon, wine and honey infuse an interesting and subtle medley of flavors to the fruit as they float about in their cool bath of ingredients.
After soaking the pears twelve hours, remove the cinnamon stick and bring the wine to boiling point on medium heat. Turn down the flame to a simmer and stew the pears 15-20 minutes or until a knife passes through them easily. Remove the pears from the pan. Continue to simmer the wine until it is reduced by half its original volume. Turn off the heat and allow the wine to cool completely before pouring it over the stewed pears. The fruit is now ready to be served or saved in a jar covered in wine juices for a special addition to lunch or dinner.
In the Netherlands wine-soaked pears are served warm with almost any kind of stewed meat. They are often paired with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts — the pears being the sweet element in an otherwise earthy winter flavor combination. I like serve them at room temperature as part of a salad of platter with radicchio and even roasted yellow beets.
Today I have no notes to think of so I am signing off with a photo of my most recent vintage acquisition — a French hand-painted platter — decorated with red Belgian endive, the pears I coaxed into turning red and my favorite cheese of all time — the Crottin de Chavignol with raw honey comb to go with it.