Pears Poached in Passito with Mugolio Cream
Their gentle sway, the round bottom that nestles in my hand, the succulent flesh of a perfectly ripe Comice – I love pears. Succulent and sexy, whether roasted in cream and sugar, baked into a tart or cake, transformed on the stove top into Pear Vanilla Butter, or eaten out of hand, pears are one of the gustatory delights of Winter.
I have a vivid recollection of my first taste of poached pears. Bosc pears, firm and tall with their stems intact, had been peeled and gently poached in sweetened, spiced Port wine. Their flesh yielding to a paring knife, the hostess lifted them from the garnet liquid and placed them in a pool of thick Creme Anglaise. She increased the flame under the poaching liquid and reduced it to a syrup. She dotted the Creme Anglaise with the syrup and deftly ran a paring knife through the dots, connecting them in an elephant walk chain made of linked hearts. A beautiful dessert took shape before my eyes, and I was transfixed. It changed the way I thought about food, and certainly how I thought about pears. It was one of those moments one never forgets, and although the word may be overused, it was a revelation.
It’s such a simple preparation – pears enrobed in sweet syrup and served after a winter’s feast. Even less than perfect pears are wonderful when poached. The possibilities for poaching liquids are limited only by the imagination of the cook. From water sweetened with sugar or honey and flavored with vanilla, citrus zest and spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves and allspice to wines of every color and sweetness level, the choices are endless.
Sweet wines result in particularly succulent fruit, and these days wonderful and wonderfully inexpensive sweet wines abound.
For a real treat, try a Passito from the tiny windswept island of Pantelleria.
The island’s volcanic soil gives rise to one of Italy’s most wonderful grapes, Zibbibo (the Arabic name for Muscat of Alexandria), from which this fine dessert wine is made.
Harvested in late August and September, the grapes for this DOC wine are left out on mats to dry, a wine making technique known as apassimento.
Complex and sweet, with a dark honeyed hue, the wine complements the pears beautifully.
The pears may be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. The poaching liquid is reduced to a thick vanilla-flecked amber syrup, drenching the pears with the wine’s precious essence. The pears are delicious served with their syrup alone, but a dollop of Mascarpone Cream flavored with Mugolio adds extra dimension to this dessert.
Mugolio is a thick syrup made from the buds of Pinus mugo, the Mountain Pine – a high altitude evergreen shrub. In May, high in the Dolomites Eleanora Cunacia, owner of Primitivizia, gathers the buds. She sets the buds, known as gems, in pots, leaving them to cure under the summer sun. Through the summer months the gems exude a golden essence, and in late Autumn the liquid is collected, filtered, mixed with sugar and reduced over heat. The result is Mugolio, a sweet resinous elixir redolent of pine and rosemary with a hint of raspberry. There is no end to the ways you can use Mugolio. Some recommend using it on pancakes or French toast in place of maple syrup. It is a brilliant match for roast pork and drizzled over the meat will lift panini to new heights. I like to dribble a bit over ricotta or Pecorino. For a real treat, try it with Taleggio and serve a few succulent Comice pears along side. Mugolio’s dark, resinous notes and honey-like taste are a beautiful match for these Passito poached pears.
Poached Pears with Mugolio and Mascarpone Cream
serves 4 left whole or 8, if pears are halved
4 pears, Bosc or Bartlett
1 bottle (500 ml) Passito di Pantelleria
3 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 3-inch strip of lemon peel – peel only, no white pith
1 vanilla bean, split
juice of 2 lemons
8 ounces Mascarpone
7-8 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons superfine or confectioner’s sugar
3-4 tablespoons Mugolio
Fill a large bowl ¾ full with cool water and add lemon juice. This water is now said to be acidulated, because of the citric acid in the lemon juice; it will prevent the pears from oxidizing and turning brown. Peel the pears, placing each peeled pear in the acidulated water.
If the pears are to be served halved, cut them lengthwise, top to bottom. Core them using a melon baller and use a small paring knife to remove the tough flesh near the bottom. Place the halved and cored pears in the acidulated water.
Combine the Passito, water and sugar in a 4-quart high sided saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce to a very gentle simmer. Add the lemon zest strips, split vanilla bean and the prepared pears.
Cut a round of parchment paper large enough to cover the surface of the saucepan and place it atop the pears. This will keep the top surfaces of the pears moist. Poach the fruit, keeping the liquid at a gentle simmer, until a paring knife slides in easily, about twenty to thirty minutes. The pears may take more or less time to poach, depending on their firmness when uncooked.
The recipe may be completed up to this point a day in advance. To store the pears overnight, remove and discard the lemon zest, leaving the vanilla bean. Transfer the pears, the poaching liquid and the vanilla bean to a glass container, being sure pears are submerged. Place a fresh piece of parchment atop pears. Dampen parchment with poaching liquid. Cover container tightly with several layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To serve, place the pears on serving plates. Remove the lemon zest and vanilla from the poaching liquid. Increase the heat to high, and bring the poaching liquid to a boil. Reduce it to a thick syrup.
While the syrup reduces, make the Mugolio Cream. Place the mascarpone, cream, superfine or confectioner’s sugar and 3 tablespoons of Mugolio in a medium bowl. Whisk gently until mixture mounds gently. Taste, adding more Mugolio, if desired.
Drizzle a bit of syrup over each pear, allowing it to pool around the fruit. Place a dollop of Mascarpone Mugolio Cream on the plate and, if desired, drizzle a bit of Mugolio over the pear and cream.
Mugolio is available from Olio2Go
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I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.