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Baked pear dish makes a festive winter dessert

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 8:04 p.m.
Chris Shorten
Baked Pears in Red Wine and Port Wine Glaze. Tribune Media Services

Years ago, I happened to be at a Los Angeles food event where caterers were showing off their most celebrated dishes. I was struck by a platter of slightly wrinkled pears drizzled with ribbons of glossy red glaze. I had never considered cooking a pear with the skin on. I was in a hurry and didn't have a chance to get the recipe, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. It was a spectacularly elegant yet rustic dessert that seemed easy to put together. After all, no peeling required.

On my first try, I cooked the pears so long that the fruit was too soft and the glaze was concentrated with a decidedly burnt aftertaste ­— definitely not my best cooking moment. The next try resulted in a wonderful dessert that was not too heavy and was truly artful to look at. I have made so many variations along the way that I can honestly say this is one dessert that you can make your own. Below you will find other flavor ideas.

Baked fruits are every bit as good as roasted vegetables, benefiting from the heat and caramelization that takes place in the oven. Roasting vegetables requires a higher heat and drizzle of olive oil and seasoning to bring out their inherent melting sweetness. Fruits require some liquid and sugar to achieve a similar result. Bosc pears are a good choice for this bistro-style dessert, because they have a creamy texture that holds up well during cooking.

I hope you'll try these pears whether you are serving a crowd or just a small group. Serve them at room temperature or reheat them just before serving; either way, this dessert will shine.

Some things to keep in mind:

• Make sure the pears have stems attached for a pretty presentation. Also, wrap stems in foil so they don't burn. Remove foil carefully after baking.

• Use a shallow rimmed glass or ceramic baking dish so that the liquid can reduce.

• Try other flavors: substitute pomegranate juice or cranberry cocktail for the port, or use only red wine, or try a sweet dessert wine flavored with a vanilla bean along with the sugar.

• This recipe can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead through the spooning of the glaze over the pears, and kept at room temperature.

• Serve these with biscotti or a crisp butter cookie.

• Serve with whipped cream or French vanilla ice cream.

Baked Pears in Red Wine and Port Wine Glaze

Serves 8.

2 cups dry red wine, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon

1 cup tawny port wine

1 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

2-inch piece lemon or orange zest

8 Bosc pears, ripe, but firm with stems attached

Fresh mint leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium nonaluminum saucepan over medium heat, bring the red wine, port, sugar, cinnamon and lemon or orange zest to a simmer, and dissolve the sugar. Remove the cinnamon stick.

Core the pears from the bottom, then cut the bottom flat so that they can stand upright. Wrap a small piece of aluminum foil around each stem to protect it from burning.

Place the pears stem-side up in a large baking pan and pour the wine mixture over them. (Reserve the saucepan.) Bake the pears for about 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a knife, basting every 15 minutes with the wine mixture.

Remove the pears from the oven and carefully remove the foil from the stems. Transfer the pears to a serving platter.

Pour off the remaining wine mixture into the reserved saucepan. Bring to a simmer on medium-high heat, and reduce the wine until it becomes a glaze. Spoon the glaze over the pears.

Garnish with fresh mint leaves, and serve warm, with vanilla ice cream if desired. These pears are excellent served at room temperature.

Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 20 cookbooks and a James Beard award-winning radio show host. Contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.

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