August is the month when we celebrate our wedding anniversary and my husband’s birthday, within four days of each other. We’ve so far celebrated nineteen anniversaries (including this one), and I just don’t know where the years have gone. In the words of Gene Perret (my husband’s says the same but in different words, and I’m sure he’s not seen Gene Perret’s quote), “Our wedding was many years ago. The celebration continues to this day”. Somehow, when it comes to anniversaries, there’s a natural trend towards things chocolate, or rather rich and heavy desserts. I’ve been that way too in the past, especially as my husband has one of the sweetest tooths I know (should I say teeth even if it sounds piranha-esque?). In the past few years however, I find myself leaning towards lighter and less sugary desserts, and its not just because that would be what the doctor ordered. My taste buds seem to dislike an overload of anything. After much thought and virtual discussions with friends, I finally decided on Poached Pears for dessert. It’s an easy enough thing to poach pears yet I’ve never done it before. For one thing, I’ve been seeing affordable pears at the local market only for the past 4 years or so. They’re still a bit expensive, especially the imported varieties we now get all the year around.
One needs slightly firm pears to poach, and the only firm ones available here right now is a local variety which are a bit grainy. The pears themselves are great, just not the best (but good enough) for poaching. We’re teetotallers so no alcohol in the house, so I poached my pears in a mixture of apple and orange juice. If you would like to replicate the red stain that comes from poaching in red wine, you could use pomegranate and red grape juices. I had planned on poaching the pears whole, but then found a couple of the pears slightly bruised. So I went ahead and sliced them instead. I spiced my poaching liquid a bit with cinnamon and star anise, and after the poaching was done I reduced it to make a sauce/ syrup to serve on the side. I also decided to make the healthy dish a little rich with a ricotta cream spiced with cardamom to serve with the pears.
If you’re not too worried about the calories, then you can also explore alternatives like serving the poached pears with sweetened whipped cream, ice-cream, chocolate sauce, etc. *About the ricotta for the spiced cream (below in the ingredient list) – I don’t get ricotta here so I substitute home-made paneer which has been well drained but hasn’t been pressed into shape. This is soft enough for me to beat/ blend into a cream. Other wise use store bought paneer cubes and blend it with a little warm milk to a smooth paste. And if you have ricotta, then you’ve got to use that of course!
Pears Poaced In Apple Juice With Cardamom Spiced Ricotta Cream
For the poached pears:
4 firm pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4ths or 1/6ths
3 cups apple unsweetened apple juice
1 cup unsweetened orange juice
(the 4 cups juice should be enough to submerge the pear pieces)
1/2 cup brown sugar (preferably dark)
3 largish strips orange peel
1” piece of ginger, cut into pieces
1 stick cinnamon
1 1/2 star anise
1/8 tsp salt
For the cardamom spiced ricotta cream:
1/2 cup ricotta/ crumbled paneer* (see above and below)
2 tbsp milk, if using paneer
200ml cream (25% fat)
1/3 cup icing sugar
3 cardamom pods, powdered
Toasted and sliced almonds and pistachios, and some mint for garnishing
*If using fresh home-made paneer, run it in your blender until really smooth. If using store bought paneer, then add the milk and blend till really smooth. Place the pear pieces in a pan and add the juices. Use a deep pan rather than a flat one as the pear should be completely submerged in the juice. Add the sugar, orange peel, ginger, salt, cinnamon and star anise and mix well. Cut out a piece of parchment paper or aluminium foil to the inner diameter of your pan and then place this in the pot touching the liquid in it. This will ensure that the pear pieces stay submerged while poaching and give them a uniform colour. Bring the poaching liquid to boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the pears are cooked. When done, they should be firm but if you push a knife or the tines of a fork into the pears they should go in without resistance. Discard the spices and let the pears and poaching liquid cool down. You can reduce about 2/3rds of the poaching liquid till it becomes somewhat syrup-like and serve it on the side with the poached pears. Refrigerate the pear pieces with some of the poaching liquid till required. To make the cardamom spiced ricotta cream, whisk together the ricotta/ blended paneer, icing sugar and powdered cardamom till smooth. In another bowl beat the cream till quite stiff. Fold the ricotta/ paneer-cardamom mixture gently into the whipped cream. Spoon into a piping bag or container and refrigerate till required. To serve, divide and arrange the pear slices equally between 4 serving dishes with some of the poaching liquid. Pipe or spoon the ricotta/ paneer cream on the side, and drizzle with the syrup/ or chocolate if you prefer. Garnish with sliced almonds and pistachios and mint. This recipe serves 4.