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I have no idea where this recipe came from. It’s something I’ve been cooking for a couple of decades. This particular version evolved over wintertime, when the usual varieties of coloured fruits become limited to pears, apples and quinces.
If I were completely honest, this recipe came from something else, too: an intense dislike of poached pears. Except at breakfast, when they are acceptable.
I think the caramelising of the pear is what elevates this dish: the richness of the butter, the vanilla and the Poire Williams, all part of this simple act. The problem with poached pears, by comparison, is the horrible grainy texture that turns up with some varieties.
For this recipe I like to use a good old-fashioned Williams pear, and not a ripe one. If it’s overly ripe, it will collapse and become pulp. A beurré bosc pear would also work – it’s a good firm pear, great for cooking.
Another pear that has popped up, which I like, is the rouge d’Anjou. It’s a pretty, squat, rosy-coloured pear that eats well and cooks well if not too ripe. It also has a slightly finer grain, which is nice.
This recipe requires a certain amount of attention, particularly during the caramelising process. The pears need to be turned to get a good, even colour. A heavy enamel pan works wonders for this dish, or a heavy-based stainless-steel pan. What is important is that the pears sit snuggly in the pan but do not crowd up over one another.
I have an old Swedish enamel pan that I have had for about 18 years, and to this day the only thing I really cook in it is this pear recipe. I like it enough for the pan to earn its spot in the cupboard. If these pears make it onto the menu in the restaurant, the pan goes in with them. We’ve used other pans, but it’s just not quite the same.
The first time I served this dish in the restaurant we made a panna cotta to serve with it, and replaced a third of the cream with crème fraîche. This, and a little bit of lemon zest, gave a nice tartness to accompany the pears. Whipped cream or ice-cream would also suffice.
– 4 pears
– 2 tbsp soft butter
– 1 vanilla bean
– 4 tbsp sugar
– 90ml dessert wine
– 1 tsp Poire Williams (optional)
Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
Peel, quarter and core the pears. Heat an enamel or stainless-steel pan that will house the pears tightly. The pears should only form a single layer in the base of the pan and not be stacked on top of each other.
Place the butter in a small mixing bowl. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Mix the vanilla seeds into the soft butter. Finely julienne the remaining vanilla pod and set it aside. Add the butter to the pan along with the sugar, sweet wine, Poire Williams and pears. Place the pan over a high heat and bring to a simmer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or aluminium foil, place in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes.
While cooking, take the time to turn the pieces of pear over occasionally. Once roasted, remove the lid and return the pears to the oven uncovered and cook for a further 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this stage most of the liquid should have reduced to syrup and the pears should have started to brown.
Add the shredded vanilla bean and cook for a further five minutes before serving.
Place four quarters of pear in small serving bowls, then scrape all the syrup and brown bits that have stuck to the pan and spoon it evenly over the pears.
Top with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
2013 Punch Friends of Punch noble riesling, Gippsland ($25) – Mark Williamson, wine buyer for Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up and the Builders Arms Hotel.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 23, 2016 as "Pot roast pears". Subscribe here.