Sunday, March 7, 2010
Pears in Red Wine
But when you buy a huge villa which happens to be in a foreign country whose language you are not fluent at and moreover, when the said villa is dilapidated and has been abandoned for a long time and you set about remodelling and restoring it, the labour and the love (and the money) it demands from you multiplies many times over.
Under The Tuscan Sun, the book club's choice this month, chronicles the author Frances Mayes' first four years in Italy. At its heart is the villa Bramasole that she and her partner, Ed purchase. Though it is completely run down from years of neglect, they dream of turning it into their home. With both of them working full-time in San Francisco, the going is very tough. Amid trips back and forth every summer and winter, they have to wade their way through a labyrinth of work: from negotiations with contractors, liaising with the workers through faxes and telephones to finally rolling up their sleeves to get the work done in time to host a friend's wedding, as a reader, you really do feel very impressed at their effort and commitment in restoring Bramasole's splendour.
However, after a point, reading about the work in progress (or the lack of progress) does get tedious. Fortunately, her memoirs do go beyond the villa renovation - as she travels into the area around Cortona, she paints a very beautiful and vivid picture of the region and delves into the history and culture of Tuscany. Sadly, her impressions of Italians and their life cling to the oft repeated cliches and while it is very interesting to read about the Etruscan civilisation, a different and scarcely known aspect of Italian history, after a point in time, the repeated references to the Etruscans made it seem like she was plain obsessed with them.
I started reading the book with a lot of enthusiasm because going to Tuscany has been on my wish list for long. However, towards the last third of the book, I found it quite laborious to plod through the pages. And had it not been a book club read, I am certain I would have stopped reading it!
Her prose is beautiful, lyrical almost and her philosophical introspections are definitely thought provoking. My favourite parts of the book were where she takes the reader through the markets in Cortona, lined with freshly picked fruit and vegetables and when she dips bread into a bowl olive oil extracted from olive plucked out of their land. The bounty of the land and the sheer labour it takes to put something on the table really shine through in these parts of the book.
Which brings me to the food: plenty and more of it, till you would almost get indigestion and heartburn just from reading! The recipes, earthy and simple to make, are divided into summer and winter in keeping with the seasonality of ingredients.
Poaching pears in red wine is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. I didn't use the recipe in the book as I didn't quite fancy the idea of using currants with the pears. Instead I picked up a few ideas from a couple of websites to come up with this method.
The red wine poached pears look stunning and are ridiculously easy to make. Make these a day or two ahead of time, so that the pears can absorb all the flavours from the spices; also the colour intensifies with time.
Red wine*: 400 ml (I used merlot, but having made these, I would highly recommend a marsala)
Sugar: 1/2 cup
Cinnamon: a 2" piece
Ginger: 1" piece, julienned
Star anise: 1
Crushed peppercorn: 1/2 tsp
Vanilla pod: 1, split lengthwise
Lemon zest: 1 tsp
(*for those who don't use alcohol, substitute the wine with grape juice and cranberry juice in the ratio of 2:1 and add a couple of tbsps of balsamic vinegar when making the syrup).
Put the red wine, sugar and all the spices into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer till the sugar dissolves.
Meanwhile, peel the pears, cut off a small disc from the bottom so that the pears can stand upright. Do leave the stalks on.
Place the pears upright into the wine; they should be completely submerged into the wine. Simmer for a further 20-30 minutes or until they are cooked through, such that a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the pear goes through easily.
Let the pears cool and then refrigerate them. Just before serving, remove the pears from the liquid, then reduce the liquid till it reaches a syrupy consistency.
Slice the pears, drizzle the syrup over them and serve with some vanilla ice cream.
Here's what the other book clubbers made:
Sweatha made Basil Mint Sorbet, Ann made a pizza with onion confit, grilled sausage and peppers and Simran made Caponata.
Next month, we are reading a chic-lit, Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella. Drop a line to Simran - bombayfoodie(at)gmail(dot)com if you'd like to join us.
It is not just about the ingredients or the recipe, good food happens when it is served with love!!