This summer, consider trying out poached pears to serve as a delicate dessert.
Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce
Yield: 6 servings
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
slivered zest from one orange
1 vanilla bean
6 small almost-ripe pears, preferably a firm type like Bosc, Bartlett or Concorde
juice from one orange
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted in a 300°F. oven until just beginning to color, about 3-5 minutes
3 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream
Combine the water, sugar, orange zest and halved, scraped vanilla bean plus its seeds, in a non-reactive (do not use aluminum or cast iron) pot large enough to accommodate the fruit. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes.
Peel the pears. Gently remove the core from the bottom with a corer or paring knife. Cut a thin slice from the bottom of each, so they stand. Place pears in the pan, stem end up. The liquid should just cover the pears. Top this with a round of parchment or waxed paper (cut to size). Bring to a very gentle simmer and cook for 5-20 minutes, just until the pears are tender when pierced with a small knife. Less ripe pears will take longer, riper ones a shorter time. Remove pears and allow to cool to room temperature.
Add the orange juice to poaching syrup and simmer 15-20 minutes, until reduced by half. Pour over pears. May be refrigerated for up to 5 days at this point.
Make the chocolate sauce by bringing the heavy cream to a simmer in a small pan. Add the chocolate and stir, off the heat, until melted. If made in advance, this sauce will need to be re-warmed slightly for serving.
To serve place one pear in each flat bowl, with a little of the syrup. Spoon some warm chocolate sauce over the pear. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve.