If you’re looking for a new take on the ‘poached pears in red wine’ classic, you’ve come to the right place! We had these spiced mini-pears on a recent trip to Italy and couldn’t get over how different they were to their more elegant-looking cousin, the poached pear. These sticky bite-sized pears are intensely flavoured and decidedly moreish – so it’s just as well they’re so small! And what makes them even more interesting – at least in my book – is that there’s little or no prep work. And with that I mean no peeling!
The recipe uses a little known variety of pear, the Martin Sec, which is particularly popular in the Piedmont region, where we were. Admittedly, it may be rather difficult to source if you don’t live in Italy, but you could try substituting it with a variety such as the seckel pear or Gute Luise, or indeed any other pear that holds its shape well when cooked (the smaller the better). In Piedmont, this recipe goes by the name ‘Pere Martin Sec al vino rosso’. I hardly need to explain the vino rosso bit, but let me tell you a little about the pears.
The Martin Sec pear is a very small variety of pear and is not suited for raw consumption. Although well known in Italy, this heirloom fruit apparently has its origins in France and can also be found in areas of Germany (Trockener Martin). Harvested in October, it pops up at local farmers’ markets across northern Italy at this time of year. Seeing as how they’re tiny and can’t be eaten raw, it makes sense to cook a whole lot of them together – a popular way in Piedmont is in red wine, sugar and spices. The full of the baking tray is cooked in the oven for about 2 hours, so that the pears become wonderfully caramelised and the wine turns into a dark sticky syrup. They can be eaten whole, core and all. We enjoyed them as an accompaniment to a sort of panna cotta, but they also go really well with ice cream.
During our visit this year, I was given a fabulous box of fresh, local produce on our departure. Our charming hostess and friend Silvana at the Cascina Cichetti guesthouse gave it to me as a parting gift, knowing how much I love to cook. Most of the produce came from her very own garden, including these pears. It’s no wonder that the Slow Food movement originated in these parts; the Piedmontese people really pride themselves on their local, seasonal produce and they cook in time-honoured fashion, with a great deal of love and care. My kind of cuisine.
Spiced pears in red wine
(Pere Martin Sec al vino rosso)
Preparation time: 10 minutes max.
Cooking time: 1.5 to 2 hours
Oven temperature: 150°C
Baking tin: a casserole dish suitable for hobs and ovens (mine has a 2-litre capacity)
- 25 Martin Sec pears
- 1 bottle (750 ml) of good (Italian) red wine (see note below)
- 250 ml water
- 300-350 g sugar
- 15 cloves
- 1 orange, zested
– Preheat the oven to 150°C.
– Wash and dry the pears, leaving any stalks on. Arrange in the casserole dish, stalks up.
– Sprinkle over the sugar, cloves and orange zest and pour on the wine and water. The pears should almost be covered.
– Place on the hob and bring to the boil, then move to the preheated oven and cook, uncovered, for 1.5 to 2 hours.
– The liquid will have reduced massively, leaving a thick, dark syrup.
– Allow to cool, then refrigerate in an airtight container. They’ll keep for about 10 days like this. Serve at room temperature with the red wine syrup.
– I used a Barbera d’Asti, but you’ll find some Italian recipes calling for a Barolo no less!