I discovered this recipe when I was doing the desserts volume of the Time-Life series The Good Cook. Cooking pears in red wine while making lunch for the crew, I licked some reduced red wine syrup off my fingers, which had been handling basil. The combination stunned me. The best pears to use are Boscs or Bartletts, because the Anjou and Comice are too soft to cook. The pears should simmer slowly to pick up as much of the wine flavor as possible, and they are best if poached in advance and allowed to sit in the wine for two days. Garnish with basil flowers if you have them.
Peel the pears, cut in half lengthwise and core.
Heat the wine, sugar, and lemon rind in a saucepan large enough to hold both the wine and the pears, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.
Add the pears to the wine and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. To test, poke a skewer or toothpick in the thickest part of the pear; if the skewer goes in easily and the pear seems soft yet still firm, it is done. Remove the pears from the liquid, cover them with a damp towel, and let cool. Boil the wine until reduced by half, about 20 to 30 minutes. It should be thick and syrupy.
Strain the syrup into a sauté pan large enough to hold the pears. Heat the pears and syrup over medium heat; add the butter and basil leaves. Submerge the leaves in the liquid to keep them from turning black. Swirl all the ingredients together until the butter melts. Arrange the pears on a plate, slice them if you wish, and pour over the sauce.
© 1986 Jeremiah Tower. All rights reserved.