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Pears poached in red wine

(Béatrice Peltre for the boston globe)
By Beatrice Peltre
Globe Correspondent / January 14, 2009

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Serves 6

With their elegant contoured shape, pears are an attractive dessert. Make a poaching liquid from red wine, which lends the flesh of the fruit its deep ruby color, and add orange rind, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, a whole clove, and a star anise for more aroma. After poaching, leave the pears in the liquid overnight (or for a few days), and the fruit will keep getting darker and fuller flavored. Simmer the syrup into a glaze, garnish with whipped cream or mascarpone, and you have an ideal ending to a hearty winter meal.

4 cups cold water
Juice of 1 lemon
6 firm but ripe Bosc or Bartlett pears (with stems intact)
1 bottle light red wine
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 strip orange rind
1 star anise
1 whole vanilla bean, cut in halves
1 whole clove
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup heavy cream, softly whipped or 3/4 cup mascarpone (for serving)
1. In a large bowl, combine the water and lemon juice. Peel the pears, keeping the stems intact. Cut a small slice from the base of each pear so the fruits sit without toppling. Drop each one into the water; set aside.

2. In a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears, combine the wine, sugar, orange rind, anise, vanilla, clove, and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

3. Add the pears. To keep the pears submerged in the poaching liquid, cut a circle of parchment paper the size of the saucepan and set it on the surface of the liquid. Place a small plate on top of the paper so it presses the pears into the liquid.

4. Simmer the pears for 25 minutes or until they are tender when pierced with a skewer. They may need 5 to 10 minutes longer if they were not ripe.

5. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Leave the fruit to cool completely in the poaching liquid.

6. Transfer the pears and their liquid to a large container. Refrigerate for at least several hours and as long as 3 days.

7. Strain about one-third of the poaching liquid into a saucepan. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Let the mixture bubble steadily until it reduces to a syrupy glaze, with a consistency like thin honey.

8. To serve, place a pear in a shallow bowl and drizzle with the syrup. Add whipped cream or mascarpone.