Scarlet Poached Pears & Ginger-Pumpkin Bread
One of the best parts of this whole blogging business is getting to know other bloggers and being inspired by their work. One of the most consistently creative and interesting sites out there is Feasting on Art, by Megan Fizell.
Megan starts each post with a food-focused work of art, usually a still life, and cooks a recipe inspired by the ingredients. It’s a delicious combo – awesome art, fun photography, and unusual recipes. I first found her blog back in April when she posted a clever coleslaw interpretation of one of my favorite Spanish still life paintings, and I’ve been a regular reader ever since.
It’s hard to pick my favorite posts, since each one is better than the last, but I loved the flavors inspired by this beautiful little Picasso etching, the boozy brilliance of Leger’s Michelada, and the sheer ambition of Mondrian’s Pound Cake.
So when she suggested that we do a collaboration, I immediately agreed… and started brainstorming an appropriate artwork.* In the end I settled on a Tiffany window that I’d seen at the Met – I’m a sucker for stained glass, and loved the rich, light-soaked scene and saturated fall colors.
The idea of the collaboration is that both bloggers work from the same piece of art; one person creates a savory recipe, the other sweet. With pumpkins and beets as my canvas, I drew sweet.
Now as much as I love beets (and I love them to unhealthy extremes) they didn’t scream sweet…until I realized I could use them for color instead of flavor. A few slices dropped into the pot of bubbling wine turned out poached pears with a deep scarlet sauce, giving a dramatic flair to a classic dessert.
A hot ginger-pumpkin loaf completed the pumpkin piece. I cut back the sugar, swapped in half the butter with olive oil, and added liberal amounts of fresh ginger, which made for a beautifully moist and spiced bread – delicious with the pears for both dessert and a decadent fall brunch.
Scarlet Poached Pears with Beets
Both recipes loosely adapted from MarthaStewart.com
4 firm, medium-size pears, such as Anjou, Bartlett, or Bosc
2 medium beets, peeled and sliced
1 bottle robust (and cheap) red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Merlot
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 orange peel
1 lemon peel
2 whole cloves
1 star anise
Peel the pears, leaving stems attached, and place in medium saucepan. (Leaving the pears whole will allow for dramatic presentation. If you cut them in half and core before poaching, they’re easier to eat and the color and spices saturate the center.)
Add wine, sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, orange peel, lemon peel, cloves, star anise and just enough water to cover pears.
Set saucepan over high heat, and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook, occasionally stirring gently, over medium-low heat, until a paring knife easily pierces pears, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat; let pears cool in liquid.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer pears to a plate. (You can remove the spices in at this point, but I left them in while reducing for extra flavor.) Place over medium-high heat, and cook until liquid has been reduced to a syrup that coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 45 minutes. Remove spices and beets. Let cool; store pears in an airtight container until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, arrange pears on a platter or on individual plates, and drizzle with poaching liquid. They’re delicious on their own and with pumpkin bread, and would also be great topped with ice cream or whipped cream.
6 tablespoons (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cups)
3 large eggs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pans; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, spices and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together ginger, sugars, pumpkin, melted butter, and eggs; add flour mixture, and stir until just combined.
Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of loaves comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes; invert pans and transfer loaves to a wire rack to cool completely.
*Thanks to Jenny for representing the National Gallery crew with art history suggestions, and Amanda for keeping me company in the kitchen! You would think that after stints at both the Gallery and the Met, my artistically-inclined husband could name a single work of art featuring food; not so. But he deserves all the credit for art directing the dripping pears. His theory is that if my food can drip or catch fire or otherwise make a mess, it makes for a more interesting shot, and he’s (almost) always right.