We’re so lucky to be able to buy fresh sheep’s milk ricotta from a local shepherd. The French call it Greuil and it’s a popular local dessert, served just as it is, with a dollop of honey or jam. My shepherd tells me it’s also good with sweet espresso coffee poured over it, but I suspect that might just be his secret to getting up at dawn to make cheese!
We love to eat it for breakfast on a slice of sourdough with local mountain honey and walnuts, but today I added a few slices of poached pears in red wine; a rather boozy addition for an early start I admit, but they’re so perfect with walnuts and creamy ricotta. It’s a combination of ingredients that were inspired by a lovely spread I buy from the Périgord region of France. It’s a paste made with pears, apples and walnuts that’s not too sweet, and just nutty enough to feel like you’re having something more than a conventional jam.
If you’d rather eat your poached pears in red wine after dark, they’re a perfect make-ahead dessert. I like to serve them with créme Anglaise, but if you don’t have time to make the sauce, then a simple dollop of cream will work just as well. Pears, in my opinion, are one fruit that are almost as good cooked as they are ripe, but thanks to supermarkets, they seem to be sold as semi-ballistic missiles these days; so hard they need to purchased weeks in advance if you have any chance of getting your teeth into them. That said, my trusty copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking claims it’s recipe for poached pears in red wine will render even “the most cast iron of cooking pears very delicious.” It’s true, pears do need to be firm to be poached, but they don’t need to be rock hard and devoid of sweetness, so if you have access to a farmers market, search for older varieties, which inevitably have more flavour.
This recipe is based on Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s recipe for Pears in red wine from The Prawn Cocktail Years. I adore this little book. It’s so full of great retro classics, but most importantly, good advice. When it comes to wine, they make a very good point—buy a decent bottle of Beaujolais or a fruity variety made with the grape variety Gamay, and don’t dilute it as some recipes state. The key to a good poached pear is gentle, slow cooking in a really well-flavoured cooking liquor. I add Crème de cassis to impart a lovely blackcurrant flavour and I garnish with rosemary flowers (when in season) or a few bruised sprigs of Rosemary leaves.