The rich, dark flavour of Marsala combined with fragrant pear juices is a quite stunning combination. But this recipe can also be made with red wine or strong dry cider – each version has its own particular charm.
When you shop for the pears, looks are important: a good pear shape and a long stalk intact are essential, and the fruit needs to be hard and not ripe – which is perhaps fortunate as ripe pears always seem difficult to find.
This recipe is taken from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection and Delia's Vegetarian Collection.
For the pears:
8 large hard pears
1 pint (570 ml) Marsala
2 oz (50 g) caster sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
1 rounded dessertspoon arrowroot
1 x 500 ml tub crème fraîche
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark ½, 250ºF (130ºC)
You will also need a large flameproof casserole with a tight-fitting lid.
Using a potato peeler thinly pare off the outer skin of the pears, but leave the stalks intact. Then slice off a thin little disc from each pear base so they can sit upright. Now lay the pears on their side in the casserole. Pour in the Marsala then sprinkle over the sugar and add the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod.
Now bring everything up to simmering point, then cover the casserole and bake the pears on a low shelf in the oven for about 1½ hours.
After that remove the casserole from the oven, turn the pears over on to their other side, then replace the lid and return them to the oven for a further 1½ hours.
When the pears are cooked, transfer them to a serving bowl to cool, leaving the liquid in the casserole. Then remove the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod. Place the casserole over direct heat and then, in a cup, mix the arrowroot with a little cold water until you have a smooth paste.
Add this to the casserole, whisking with a small whisk as you add it.
Bring the syrup just up to simmering point, by which time it will have thickened slightly.
Then remove from the heat and when the syrup is cool, spoon it over the pears, basting them well.
Now cover the pears with foil or clingfilm and place them in the fridge to chill thoroughly.
Serve the pears sitting upright in individual dishes with the sauce spooned over and the crème fraîche handed round separately.