Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Pears are bastards

Baby Rocha pears poached in aromatised red wine

"Pears can just f**k off too. 'Cause they're gorgeous little beasts, but they're ripe for half an hour, and you're never there. They're like a rock or they're mush. In the supermarket, people banging in nails. "I'll just put these shelves up, mate, then you can have the pear." … So you think, "I'll take them home and they'll ripen up." But you put them in the bowl at home, and they sit there, going, "No! No! Don't ripen yet, don't ripen yet. Wait till he goes out the room! Ripen! Now now now!"                     Eddie Izzard Definite Article1996

The pear is a very nutritious fruit, rich in vitamins and fibre. In Portugal, there is a variety of pear that is different from all the others, since it is the only variety that is qualified (PDO): the West Rocha Pear (Pêra Rocha do Oeste), the main horticultural product that Portugal exports.
The growing of the West Rocha Pear extends as far as the Lisbon area, from Mafra to Alcobaça. The main producers of these pears are the municipalities of Cadaval, Bombarral, Torres Vedras, Caldas da Rainha, Alcobaça, Lourinhã, Óbidos and Mafra. In Sintra, where the fruit originated, it isn’t so prominent.  
This pear's pulp is fine, soft and aromatic. It has a nutty firm skin, and does not require the same treatment that other varieties do. The Rocha Pear can be eaten fresh, cooked (in syrup or boiled) or as an ingredient in all kinds of dishes.  
Pear with chocolate and pear cooked in red wine with spices are two common and well loved desserts in Portugal.
For a more intoxicating pear treat try the famous West Rocha Pear Liquor (Licor de Pêra Rocha do Oeste).
This great dessert is always best made a day or two in advance. If the poached pears are eaten too soon, the poaching liquid will have penetrated only some of the flesh and the centre will have remained white and less flavoursome. Remember the old saying "If its not good enough to drink, don´t cook with it" so use a really good red wine. I usually use Fontanario de Pegoes, a smooth velvety red wine with a hint of spice, chocolate and vanilla.The 2007 vintage if you can beg borrow or steal a bottle was particularly fine.Adega do Monte Alentejano is a very acceptable substitute.

Baby Rocha pears poached in aromatised red wine
Serves 4
The pears look nicer left whole, although this makes them more fiddly to prepare, particularly if you opt for the baby variety that I used.
1 Bottle Fontanario de Pegoes
300g sugar
1 Cinnamon stick
6 cloves
1 star anise
20g fresh ginger root peeled 
Zest of 1 orange peeled in one piece
Zest of 1 lemon peeled in one piece
12 unblemished and almost ripe baby Rocha pears with stalks on

Bring the wine to the boil in a casserole large enough to hold the pears and boil for 10 minutes to drive off the acidity. Remove from the heat, then add all the other ingredients except the pears. 
Prepare the pears. Carefully peel them, leaving the stem intact. Remove the core so that they cook evenly all the way through. To core them, insert the tip of a peeler into the base of the pear just on the edge of the core.Push carefully into the fruit and turn the peeler around the core cutting it out.
The liquid will have cooled down a little by now. Place the prepared pears side by side in the pan and top with adisc of parchment paper cut to the size of the pan. Slash a few holes in the paper and press it down slightly so that some of the poaching liquid comes through the holes keeping the pears submerged while they cook.If the liquid does not cover the pears add a little water until it does.Place the casserole back on the heat andcook at a gentle simmer- just enough to form the odd on the surface of the liquid - for 30 minutes or until the pears are done.Test them by inserting the tip of a small pointed knife into the flesh. If it goes in with little resistance, they are ready. remove from the heat and leave to cool.When cool transfer the fruit to to a suitable container.If you have added extra water, reduce the liquid in the pan to a syrupy consistency. Reserve the zest and spices if you like for decoration.The pears will keep in their poaching liquid for a week.

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