If you are at the market and feel inspired by a display of beautiful pears, but what you find aren't quite ripe or if you find ripe pears but want to serve them in a few days—no worries. Most pears have trouble fully ripening on the branch, they get too heavy and smash to the ground, so they are often harvested before their peak. Underipe pears placed in a paper bag will ripen quickly. (How long depends on how much they need to ripen. If you are in a hurry add a banana or apple to the bag to really hasten the process.) You can get an extra day or two out of ripe pears by placing them in the fridge, this will slow them down considerably.
So whether you are eating them out of hand or you want to try a recipe for poached pears—they just need to ripen.
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 3 hours; active time: 40 minutes
2 cups red wine (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot)
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean cut in half lengthwise
1 whole cinnamon stick
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1 whole bay leaf
6 ripe, stem-on pears (Anjou, Bartlett, or Bosc)
Place wine, sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, orange zest and juice, lemon zest, and bay leaf into a medium sauce pan and stir to combine. Carefully peel pears, leaving stems intact. Cut a ¼ [[[.25]]] inch off the bottom (so pears can stand upright for serving). Place pears in liquid.
Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook, stirring gently, until a paring knife easily pierces the pears, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the pears to cool in poaching liquid.
When cooled, remove pears from liquid with a slotted spoon and place in a small container; cover, and refrigerate. Pour poaching liquid through a sieve set over a second sauce pan. Discard solids and bring liquid to boil and cook until reduced to a thick syrup—about 20 minutes. Let syrup cool to room temperature.
When ready to serve, arrange pears on a platter or on individual plates, and drizzle poaching liquid over them.