Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 6, 2014

Foodie with Family: Nothing says romance like spaghetti

Local columnist

---- — I’m a little romantic about food. I’m sure that comes as a not-surprise-at-all to many of you who have been reading me for years. Food is how I show people I care. For instance, I am not now and have never been a fan of spaghetti with meat sauce. It’s just not my thing.

So, when snowed in for Valentine’s Day, from the myriad options my well stocked pantry and freezer offered me — salmon, shrimp, various delicious chicken, beef, or pork dishes? Check, check, check.

I opted to make a giant, bubbling pot of meat sauce and an even bigger pot of spaghetti because it is one of my husband’s favorite dishes. The poor guy doesn’t get to eat it often, both because of the variety of foods I make to fulfill my duties as a recipe developer and because it is one of the few foods that makes me wrinkle my nose.

But I made it exactly as he loved it that day.

Loads of ground beef were browned with garlic, onion and various herbs and spices. Into the pot over the ground beef went a jar of the spaghetti sauce I had made from the summer’s bountiful tomatoes. Slow-simmering took place and all of this equaled one very happy husband and five very happy boys. The dish is still not my thing, but I was happy, too, because of the beaming faces at the table.

Thankfully, not all of my husband’s favorite dishes are a point of divergence for us. One dish that makes him swoon also happens to make my heart go pitter pat: poached pears. Not just any poached pears are the stuff of our dreams, though.

Our affection for the dish is mostly directed at a style of poached pears that he refers to as “that honey treatment.” The ripe but firm pears are peeled and simmered in a mixture of white wine, honey, lemon juice, cardamom and saffron.

They’re refrigerated until chilled through after they’re cooked to tenderness. The leftover liquids in the pan are reduced by two-thirds to three-quarters to create a fragrant, sweet, thick syrup.

The syrup is poured through a sieve into a jar or a pitcher and that is set in the refrigerator to chill. The real moment of glory comes when everything is put together over a dollop of plain mascarpone. Many dessert recipes call for sweetening or stretching the mascarpone with sugar and cream. In this case, the pear and syrup provide all of the sweetness that are needed and the mascarpone adds a rich decadence to the dish.

My husband tells me this is “the best dessert I’ve ever eaten anywhere.” Given that he has a sweet tooth and has tried at least a little bite of nearly every of the hundreds of desserts I’ve turned out of my kitchen, I think that’s saying something. It certainly says that my husband loves it, and that’s reason enough for me to make it time and again until he cries “uncle.”

Cook’s Notes:

n Choose pears that are ripe but still very firm. This will help them hold together during the poaching process.

n Choose a dry white wine that you would enjoy sipping from a glass. When you cook it down, the flavor will be concentrated, so you want something you like.

n If you cannot find mascarpone (or your budget stands against it) you can substitute cream cheese. It will lack a bit of the tang, but still provide the rich, creamy note that the mascarpone would have.

n Indian and Asian groceries, bulk foods stores, and online retailers are good sources for whole cardamom pods. If you cannot find them, you can substitute ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom for the pods but it will make your final syrup a bit cloudier.

n The saffron is expensive, but it is essential if you want your pears to have that lovely yellow hue. While turmeric can stand in for saffron in many dishes, this is not one of them.

n You can serve these pears at room temperature or well chilled. I prefer the texture of them chilled, but this is up to you.

Honey Cardamom Poached Pears

4 ripe but firm pears (Bosc is a good choice.)

2 c. Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio

1 c. mild honey

15 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed with the side of a knife or heavy object

½ t. saffron threads

Pinch of salt

Mascarpone, for serving

Stir together the Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, honey, cardamom pods, saffron threads and the pinch of salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Peel and place the pears in the liquid.

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, then drop the heat to the lowest setting, place a circle of parchment paper directly on the surface of the liquid, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, lifting the parchment paper and gently turning the pears from time to time.

The pears are done when you can easily insert a knife in the base of the pear with no resistance. Transfer the pears to a rimmed plate or bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled. Discard the parchment, raise the heat back up to medium and bring the mixture to a boil again. Boil the syrup until it has reduced by 2/3 to 3/4 of the original volume. Pour it through a fine mesh strainer or sieve into a heat-safe jar or pitcher. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To present the pears, add a dollop (about 2 tablespoons) of mascarpone to a dessert cup or dish and arrange one pear over it. Drizzle a little of the chilled syrup over the top and serve.