Saturday, October 24, 2015

Falling for Pears

Simply said, I love pears. I like the sensuous curves of their form. The sweet and reassuring smell of what lies inside. A gentle push on the blossom end to see if they're just ripe for enjoying with a sharp and earthy Stilton or French Bleu cheese. Do they need a few days on the window sill in my kitchen serving as soldierly decorations waiting for thoughts forming in my mind on what lies ahead for them? The beautiful sharp, speckled greens of the Green Anjou. Or it's wanton sister, the Red Anjou all decked out in her crimson promise. Maybe the sueded Bosc or the plump Comice. And finally, sometimes if I'm lucky enough to find a smaller Seckel or Forelle pear just begging for it's turn as the perfectly caramelized take on a Tarte Tatin. Whichever variety I choose, I know that I won't be disappointed in my lovelies. 
Pears offer up so many thoughts on their uses. I love slicing their luscious cheeks paper thin and adding them into a Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Or a little thicker lying sweetly stretched out on a crusty baguette married with some salty prosciutto. They're deliciously gracious poached in rosé wine with spices and raw sugar and then stuffed with raspberries and bittersweet chocolate bathed in the reduced poaching liquid. Tossed into salads. Halved, cored and grilled and then stuffed with a tangy blue cheese and finished with honey, well there really is nothing better. Pears, for me, are only limited by the far reaches of my imagination. 
The recipe today is a simple one. Something from Italy, although it could be served up in the South of France or in Spain - an uncomplicated Torta Rustica di Pere or Pear Cake.

Torta Rustica di Pere
(Italian Pear Cake)

3 Pears, very ripe; peeled, cored and cut into rough chunks
½ Lemon, juiced
½ Cup + 1 Tbl. Sugar
3 Eggs, large
1¼ Cup All Purpose Unbleached Flour
¼ Cup Polenta or Corn Meal, fine to medium ground
1 Tbl. Baking Powder
1 pinch Salt (fine Kosher or Sea Salt)
4 Tbl. Butter, melted and cooled
¼ Cup Marsala Wine
½ Cup Almonds, slivered or shaved
Confectioner’s Sugar for finishing

Whipped cream (optional)*

Pre-heat the oven 350°F. Lightly butter a 9" cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside.

Peel and core the pears and cut into non-fussy chunks. Toss lightly in a separate bowl with lemon juice and set aside.

Cream the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the flour, polenta/corn meal,   baking powder salt. Stir to just combined. Mix in the butter and Marsala till the batter is smooth. Pour the batter.  into your prepared pan and place the pears into the batter evenly, gently pushing down each piece of pear. (It doesn’t matter if the pear sticks out of the cake it will all blend in.) Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top, again gently pressing down. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool. 

When cool dust top with confectioner's sugar. Serve with whipped cream on the side.

*Whipped Cream – You may use Vanilla, but why not change the flavoring to Marsala, Brandy, Grand Marnier, etc. for an varied twist.

Basic Whipped Cream – 1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream, 2 tsp. Sugar (to taste), 2 tsp. Vanilla (to taste)
~Begin beating the whipped cream with an electric mixer. When the cream begins to stiffen add in the sugar and flavoring. Continue beating until stiff, white peaks hold their shape.