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Elegance on a plate: poached pears


Nothing, except perhaps a cat, presents itself as regally as a whole poached pear. It sits up in a dish, shows off its contours and dares you to disturb it.

Pear people -- that is, lovers of the fruit, not people shaped like it -- will tell you that if a pear isn't quite ripe enough to eat, you can always poach it. This rhetoric relegates poached pears to some sort of "fix-it" category. What a very bad attitude to have toward such a glistening and sweet thing!

There is more than one way to poach a pear. You can cook it atop the stove or in the oven; in red wine, white wine or sugar syrups enhanced with aromatic herbs; as is, enveloped in or on top of dough. You can serve it whole, halved or sliced.

A poached pear is just fine eaten alone with its poaching liquid for a low-to-no-fat dessert, but it becomes elegant -- and, let's face it, really good -- with rich ice cream or sauces.

Any way you deal with it, you'll find a poached pear is easy to prepare -- always do a batch ahead -- but looks and tastes shapely, stately and special.

While all of these recipes specify keeping the pears whole, halving or slicing them, you can certainly cook them any way you TC wish. But keep an eye on them; the smaller the pieces, the shorter the poaching time.

This recipe is from "The Eating Well Rush Hour Cookbook" (Eating Well, $14.95).

Poached pears with bay leaves and cherries

Serves 4

4 pears, such as Bosc or Anjou

2 cups dry white wine

1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries

1/4 cup sugar

8 small whole bay leaves

Peel pears and cut in half lengthwise. Remove cores with

melon baller or spoon. Cut each half in thirds lengthwise. Place pears in a large saucepan and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently over low heat until pears are tender when pierced with a knife, 5 to 10 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, remove fruit to a serving bowl, discarding bay leaves. Bring remaining liquid to a boil over high heat and cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 12 minutes. Spoon over fruit.

Per serving: 230 calories, 1g protein, 1g fat, 48g carbohydrates, 8mg sodium, no cholesterol.

This recipe for Pears Belle Helene is from "A Feast of Fruits" (Macmillan, $25).

Pears Belle Helene

Serves 8

3 cups sugar

3 cups water

8 firm pears, left whole but peeled and cored, stems left on

2 2-inch strips lemon peel (without white pith)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

vanilla ice cream

Put sugar and water into large non-reactive (glass, stainless steel or coated) saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and let boil over low heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove a slice from bottom of each peeled pear so it can stand upright. Drop pears into syrup with lemon peel and juice and poach over low heat, turning once or twice, 10 minutes or more depending upon ripeness and variety of pears. Cook until tender. Cool in syrup. This may be done ahead.

Gently melt chocolate with vanilla extract in top of double boiler over simmering water. Add 1/2 cup syrup from pears and stir to make thin sauce.

Place a bed of vanilla ice cream in 8 glass serving bowls. Lift pears by stems from syrup, drain and set upright on top of ice cream. Spoon some warm syrup on top.

This recipe is taken from "Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton at Home" (Warner, $24.95).

Salad of honey-poached pears and escarole

Serves 4 as a first course

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

2 strips lemon zest (peel without white pith)

2 thyme sprigs

1 mint sprig

2 cups water

4 firm Bosc pears (2 pounds), peeled but with stems left on

1 head escarole (watercress or mixed greens may be used)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts

In a medium saucepan, combine wine, vinegar, honey, lemon zest, thyme, mint and water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook about 10 minutes. Stand pears in poaching liquid and cover pan. Lower heat and cook 30 minutes or until pears are tender when pierced with a knife. Time of cooking will depend upon type and ripeness of pears. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate in poaching liquid overnight, covered.

To assemble, trim outer leaves from head of escarole and fan several of the nicer ones on each of 4 plates. Chop remaining leaves and toss in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper and 3 teaspoons of the poaching liquid. Slice pears in half lengthwise. Cut out cores. Lay 2 halves, cut side down, on each plate. Cut 1/4 -inch slices along length of each half, without cutting all the way through. Surround pears with chopped escarole and sprinkle with blue cheese and nuts.

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