Cut the chilli in half and add, with all the other ingredients except the pears and the mascarpone, to a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Peel the pears and add to the liquid, adding water if necessary to cover the fruit. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper slightly larger than the pot and place over the pears, pressing down so it comes into contact with the liquid. This will ensure even cooking – more so than a lid as it is close to the fruit. Bring back to the boil and continue to simmer for at least 30 minutes (the time will depend on the size and ripeness of the fruit). The pears are cooked when a thin skewer is easily inserted through the centre.
When done, remove the pears with a slotted spoon and place gently in a bowl. Turn the heat up and boil the liquid in the pan until reduced by half, then strain over the fruit. The pears can be served either hot or chilled with a generous dollop of mascarpone.
© 1997 Peter Gordon. All rights reserved.