Getting pears at the right stage of ripeness for cooking is quite difficult, since they are only perfectly ripe for a brief period before going bad. Many restaurants get round this by using tinned pears when baking tarts. The best way of dealing with pears which are not fully ripe is to poach them in red wine.
Comice pears, which originated in Angers, are the finest and, when cooked this way, turn an entrancing pink colour. This dish can be made the day before it is needed.
Use a saucepan into which the pears will all just fit standing upright and in it put the wine with the sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice and rind. Boil for 5 minutes, then reduce to a simmer.
Peel the pears, leaving the stalks on, and cut the bottoms flat so they will stand upright. You can core them carefully from the bottom, though this is not strictly necessary.
Put them into the wine syrup, topping up with water to cover if there is insufficient liquid, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, testing after 20 minutes, when they may already be done. The precise time will depend on the degree of ripeness.
Turn off the heat and leave until the syrup is just lukewarm before removing the pears and transferring them to a serving dish.
Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan and put over a high heat until reduced to the point where it will just coat a spoon, but not to the point where it caramelizes. When cool, taste, adding more sugar or lemon juice as you like, then spoon over the pears. Refrigerate until very cold.
© 1998 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.