Last week I took the daring step of taking all the half-opened bottles of red wine out of my wine rack. There were seven. It's probably a good thing wine doesn't have a sell-by date on it, which would give me some indication of when those bottles were last opened and drunk from, because I'd probably be horrified by the length of time they'd been languishing. I'm not the biggest fan of red wine, nor do I cook a lot of heavy casserole-type recipes that involve stewing a piece of animal bathed in it, so wine brought by dinner guests tends to have a fairly extended shelf life in my kitchen. Seven bottles, though, is verging on ridiculous and they were taking up valuable space in the wine rack that I wanted to fill with gin. Naturally.
Poached pears are a great way to use up leftover red wine (though many of you will probably be snorting derisively that such a thing could exist). You need at least two-thirds of a bottle in order to keep the fruit submerged and make sure it cooks and colours evenly, and while buying a bottle of wine to use a splash or two in a recipe seems fairly acceptable, I can never quite bring myself to purchase an entire bottle of wine only to pour it all into a pan and then, once it has permeated the fruit and turned it a deep burgundy, down the sink. Jazz up your leftover red wine with some spices – all those wintry favourites like cinnamon, cloves and star anise, plus some vanilla for its sweet fragrance – add a little sugar, then bathe some slender peeled pears in it for half an hour or so until they are soft, sweet and aromatic.
In the spirit of using up leftovers, I served these with a Christmas pudding ice cream. Yes, you heard correctly. Imagine a creamy custard ice cream base enriched with vanilla and orange zest. Once this is churning in the ice cream machine, you crumble in some leftover cooked Christmas pudding (which, incidentally, keeps in the fridge for months after Christmas). Christmas pudding, you see, is possibly the only dessert that just doesn’t transcend its designated time of eating. I can gorge myself on hot cross buns slathered in butter well into July, or appreciate turkey and cranberries year-round, but no one, including myself, seems to have any appetite for Christmas pudding after December. I love it, but perhaps it seems wrong to eat it outside its namesake day. Or perhaps we overdo the dried fruit and alcohol so much during the festive period that we just can’t face another helping, and by Boxing Day are already planning our new year detoxes.
Making it into ice cream, though, is a very wise idea and means you can eat it throughout the new year. The dense, dark pudding peppers the ice cream with little nuggets of fruit, spice and treacly crumbs, the overall flavour being a lovely medley of citrus, warm spice and molasses. It goes really well with lots of different desserts, but especially something fruit-based like these pears (I think it would be too much to serve it with a cake, crumble or similar – stick to fruit; baked apples would also work). It’s also quite an impressive dessert: friends will be in awe of the fact that you a) made your own ice cream at all and b) came up with such an unusual combination.
Spiced poached pears with Christmas pudding ice cream (serves 4):
For the ice cream:
- 300ml whipping cream
- 250ml whole milk
- 4 large strips of orange zest
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
- 150g caster sugar
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 300g cooked Christmas pudding, crumbled
For the pears:
- 1 bottle red wine
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
- 4 cloves
- 200g caster sugar
- 4 large, firm Conference pears, peeled
First, make the ice cream. Put the milk, cream, orange zest and vanilla pod in a small saucepan and heat until just below boiling. Turn off the heat and leave for an hour to infuse. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and cornflour until thick and pale, then strain the milk/cream mixture into this and whisk again. Pour this into a saucepan and cook over a very gentle heat for around 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to a light custard. Chill overnight (or for at least 6 hours). When the base has chilled, churn in an ice cream maker, adding the crumbled pudding to the churning mixture in the machine once it has started to firm up. When ready, transfer to a tub in the freezer and leave for at least 8 hours before serving.
For the pears, put the wine, cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla pod, cloves and sugar into a saucepan. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then simmer gently for 15 minutes to allow the mixture to infuse. Add the pears and cook, uncovered, over a very low heat for 30-60 minutes, turning the pears occasionally to ensure they colour on all sides. Check them with a sharp knife for tenderness - the time it takes varies depending on the ripeness of your fruit. Serve the pears (I slice the bottom off with a sharp knife so they sit upright on a plate or bowl) with a little of the cooking syrup and a scoop of ice cream.