While they might not be a food one traditionally associates with winter, pears are versatile and can be utilized in various recipes, particularly those that will be served when the dessert bell rings. Pears come in many different varieties. However, when preparing this recipe for “Venetian Pears” from “Serena Food & Stories: Feeding Friends Every Hour of the Day” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Serena Bass, Bartlett pears are ideal. Look for pears with a stubby rather than pointy top and the stalks left on.
10 firm Bartlett pears, peeled, halved, and cored, keeping the stem intact on one half
6 cups full-bodied red wine
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
22⁄3 cups sugar, divided
6 cups full-bodied white wine
1 vanilla bean
1⁄2 cup heavy cream, stiffly whipped
Cut a level 1⁄2 inch slice off the base of each pear so it will stand up straight. Choose two saucepans — one for the red wine and one for the white — both big enough to hold 10 pear halves. Add the red wine, the peppercorns (see note), half the sugar, and 11⁄2 cups water to one pan; add the white wine, vanilla bean, the remaining sugar, and 11⁄2 cups water to the other pan. Bring each pan to a slow boil and reduce the liquid for 5 minutes. Add the pears, making sure you have five of the ones with stems in the red wine and five with stems in the white. Cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears. When a toothpick enters without too much resistance, remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Refrigerate overnight.
When you come to arrange the pears on a platter, take 1 red pear half with a stalk and 1 white half without a stalk, and then vice versa; sandwich them together carefully with a tablespoon of the whipped cream.
Note: Don’t worry about the peppercorns. Just let them rattle around in the pan and pick off any stuck to the pears after cooking.