I was lucky enough to meet the brilliant Italian chef Valentina Harris at a special dinner party thrown earlier this year by Paddy and Judith O’Hagan who are part of the team behind the Wells Food Festival. The party was for volunteers and supporters of the festival, and we were treated to an incredible Italian five-course feast, all prepared by Valentina, who cooked at last year’s festival and is lined up to be involved again this year. There were beautiful canapes, followed by a selection of pasta dishes, then a wonderful risotto, an array of sweet treats and finally cheese.
One of the desserts was poached pears in the most heavenly red wine and spice syrup. I was rather surprised by how much my oldest daughter Jessie enjoyed the pears – so much so, she insisted we take our chances and pop into the kitchen (we’d been warned about the amount of swearing going on in there!) to see if Valentina would share her recipe with us.
I’m very pleased to say Valentina was only too happy to pass on her recipe, and here it is.
I made these pears for pudding at the weekend when my Dad and step-mum Sue came to stay. We had a rather fiery pad thai for supper (inspired by my recent class at Demuths in Bath) and this proved a much-need and deliciously soothing antidote, particularly when smothered in cream. We had some of the gorgeously spicy red wine syrup left over, which Sue thought might make rather a good jelly. I think she might be right, so will be giving that a go this week. Although I reckon it would be equally good simply poured over vanilla ice cream.
Poached pears in red wine and spices
6 medium/large firm pears
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
6 tbsp light brown sugar
1 bottle good red wine
Carefully peel the pears carefully and slice off the rounded bottom of the pears so stand upright. Leave the stalks on if possible. Place them all in a deep pot with a lid.
Add the spices and sugar to the pot and pour over all the wine.
Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for around 40 minutes or until completely tender. Turn the pears from time to time so that they are immersed in the liquid. Add a little water if the wine reduces too much.
Take the cooked pears out of the pot and place in a bowl. Pour over all the liquid and spices and leave to stand for as long as possible, overnight is best, turning them from time to time.
Pour off all the remaining liquid into a saucepan and return to the heat to boil. Reduce to a thick syrup, then pour this over the pears and allow to cool before serving.
Serve with chilled single cream or ice cream.