It is, I can confirm, possible to eat too many antipasti. The trip to Saturnia was a welcome break full of sources and other courses, but otherwise, while I work - slowly - on the first part of the book, we have been mostly eating antipasti. These last couple of weeks have been filled with round ways to start a meal: olives marinated with citrus, sweet and sour onions, rounds of ciauscolo, fried slices of courgette scented with mint and two experiments involving batter and balls that ended in disappointment and disproportionate mess. Round and round. Then on wednesday a quiet rebellion took place. No more antipasti was the principle message, followed by calls for pasta, pasta and more pasta.
So on thursday morning, I set the first part aside – for now at least – and started work on the second. A second part all about Roman minestre, pasta, rice and dumplings. Well sort of started, for procrastinations sake and a practice run for a supper next week, I poached some pears in sweet wine first.
On this occasion the pears were the small, straw-yellow, occasionally blushing coscia; their vinous and compact flesh poaching well, particularly in sweet wine. I used the dubious bottle of dessert wine that has been loitering like a ticket tout along with the 100 % chocolate and unmarked mustard at the bottom of the fridge. The dubious dessert wine that turned out to be anything but dubious. ‘It’s a Moscato D’asti’ said the person loitering in the kitchen hoping to wrangle lunch. ‘But a good one. Too good for poaching don’t you think?’ I continued prodding my pears.
A good moscato makes for good poached pears, sweetening the flesh just enough (which is important as pears poached in scantily sweetened liquid taste a bit like boiled turnips) and then reducing into a sweet without cloying, suitably clinging syrup.
Generally I like poached pears just so: naked in a pool of syrup. It turns out I also like them with a spoonful of ricotta di pecora whipped into a smoothish cream with a dash of milk and some warm, espresso-spiked, dark-chocolate sauce. I don’t suppose I need to tell you what a good-looking and tasteful couple pear and chocolate are. Be cautious with the sauce though, too much and stops heightening the pears sweetness and swamps it. The spoonful of soft, lactic ricotta is a perfect foil for the dark sauce and poached fruit, it also steals some of the attention from the good-looking couple, making sure they don’t get smug.
Obviously poached pears are brilliant with hard cheese too: slice a poached pear and serve it as quivering partner for sharp, salty pecorino. Procrastination and practice complete, I can now move on to part two.
Pears poached in sweet wine (with ricotta and chocolate sauce)
Moscato D’Asti is sweet, but not that sweet. I didn’t add extra sugar though, as the pears were especially dolce and the Moscato reduced down into an almost honeyed syrup. However different pears might have needed extra sugar. I suggest tasting, both the syrup and the pears and then keep a beady eye on the reducing syrup.
- 10 – 14 small, firm pears
- a lemon
- a bottle of Moscato D’Asti or other sweet dessert wine
- sugar (optional)
- 100 g dark chocolate, a little heavy cream, a dash of espresso and a little sugar
Using a sharp knife pare away the skin from the pears (leaving the stalk intact) and cut a half a cm from the curved bottom of the pear so it sits upright. As you work rub the pear with the cut side of a lemon to stop it discolouring.
Stand the pears in a heavy-based pan. Ideally you should have enough pears to fill the pan neatly and snugly (but not so they are squashed). Cover the pears with enough wine to reach the base of the stalk.
Bring the wine to a gentle boil then reduce the heat so the wine bubbles gently and the pears bob slightly for about 25 minutes (depending on the ripeness pears) or until they are easily pierced by a fork.
Remove the pears from the pan with a slotted spoon and then raise the heat and boil the remaining liquid energetically until it has reduced by roughly half into a syrup that clings lightly (but not viciously) to the back of a spoon. Put the pears back in the liquid, encouraging them to loll over and roll them in the syrup as best as possible. Leave to cool for a few hours.
Move the pears into a serving plate and pour over the syrup. Serve just so, spooning over some of the syrup. Alternatively you can cut the pears into a fan and serve them with a spoonful of ricotta and some simple chocolate sauce made by melting dark chocolate with a little espresso and a tablespoon of fine sugar and once it is smooth and silky stirring-in a little heavy cream.