There are more than 3'000 varieties of pear cultivated all over the world, but it is thought that the wild pear originated in Asia and the ancient Greeks introduced them to Europe. They come in different shapes and sizes and vary in sweetness and texture and so can be used in different ways. Most cooks tend to prefer the Comice pear for their sweet, aromatic flavour and good texture, although Williams and Packhams make excellent alternatives. Pears are extremely versatile and lend themselves to both sweet and savoury dishes. Try them in a simple salad with blue cheese or parmesan, walnuts and rocket leaves. Pears can help to cut the richness of game, foie gras and pork and they are probably just about the best fruit for poaching. Whether poached in red wine, spices or both, pears combine well with a multitude of other ingredients from chocolate, honey, almonds, grapefruit, ginger and cinnamon. For simple, spiced poached pears, peel 6 pears and place them in a saucepan. Pour over 1 litre of water and 250ml of white wine with 250g sugar, a cinnamon stick, one vanilla pod, 2 cloves, 1 star anise and a whole sliced lemon. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the pears to cool in their own syrup.
(serves 4) l Torrijas are simply a variation of what is known in French as Pain Perdu, and in English as Eggy Bread
For the torrijas:
· 150ml cream
· 60g caster sugar
· 2 eggs
· 4 slices of white bread or baguette
· 30g butter
· 2tbsp. Sugar and ground cinnamon
For the caramelised pear:
· 80g brown sugar
l 1 pear, peeled, cored and sliced
· 2tbsp. Calvados or brandy l Whisk together the cream, sugar and eggs. Dip the bread into the egg mixture. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and fry the bread until golden on both sides. Drain over kitchen paper and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. For the caramelised pears, heat the brown sugar in a frying pan until it starts to caramelize and bubble. Add the pear slices, remove from the heat and add the calvados. Return to the heat to coat the pears evenly with caramel, then divide them between 4 serving bowls. Sit the warm torrija on top and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
ROASTED PEARS IN
AND A GINGER-CARAMEL
SAUCE (serves 4) l 4 large pears (comice, conference and packhams)
· 8 tbsp. finely chopped pistachio nuts
· 4 tbsp. brown sugar
· Poaching liquid
· 1.2l water
· 500g sugar
· Juice of 3 lemons
· 1 Cinnamon stick
· Caramel sauce
· 100ml poaching liquid from the pears
· 100ml calvados
· 1tbsp chopped ginger
· 150ml cream
l 115g dark chocolate coverture (chopped) l 65g unsalted butter (cold and diced)
· 80ml brandy
Preparing the pears: l With a potato peeler, peel the pears very carefully removing only the skin but leaving the stalk on. Using a melonballer, scope out and remove the core from each pear forming a small cavity to place the ganache inside. In a stainless steel saucepan, bring the poaching liquid to the boil, add the pears and poach gently for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the pears to cool in their own liquid. When cool drain and put to one side.
For the chocolate ganache: l Bring the cream to the boil, remove from the heat and gently stir in the chocolate and butter. Add the brandy, pour into a plastic container and refrigerate for at least 23 hours.
For the caramel sauce: l Bring to the boil the poaching liquid and reduce until it starts to caramelise. Add the fresh ginger and remove from the heat. Carefully add the calvados, mix well and strain through a fine sieve. Chill.
To serve: l Roll each pear in the mixed pistachio crumbs and brown sugar, covering evenly. Fill the cavity of each pear with chocolate ganache and place them on a greased baking sheet. Roast the pears in a hot oven (180c/350f) for 5/8 minutes. Remove and carefully place in the middle of 4 serving plates. Serve with ginger caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.