Poached Pears with Parmesan Foam
From the memory of a meal eaten in a small restaurant in Parma, Italy.
- Servings: 8.
Many years ago, on a first trip to Italy, I visited Parma, a small city located about halfway between Florence and Milan that is home to the great cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or as it's simply called, Parmesan. With this cheese legacy, Parma's restaurants try to one-up each other in ways to cook with it. One memorable transformation turned the salty, grainy cheese into a creamy texture they called "foam" that was served with pears poached in a local, dry red wine.
After coming home I couldn't forget the combination of the sweet pears partnered with the salty, savory Parmesan "foam" and figured out how to make it my New York City kitchen. For those of us who sometimes prefer to end a meal with something not so sweet, this is an unusual but very satisfying alternative. It can also be a first course.
Serves 8 with leftover "foam."
- 3/4 pound piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Do not substitute any other cheese, regardless how good you think it is because the foam may not solidify, plus you'll give up the nutty, salty flavor of the Parmesan.
- 1 cup half-and-half (do not substitute milk as the recipe needs the added fat that half-and-half provides)
- 6 Anjou or Bosc pears, peeled but left whole with the stem attached
- 1 lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cups red wine (always cook with a wine that is also good enough to drink)
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- Cut the cheese into pieces, each about 1/2-inch, enough to generously fill to the brim a one-cup liquid measuring cup. Try to have the pieces be about the same size so that they will melt evenly.
- Position a double-boiler or heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add the pieces of Parmesan and the half-and-half to the pan. While maintaining a low heat, enough to keep the water simmering, slowly melt the cheese, stirring frequently.
- After about 15 minutes the cheese will have completely melted. Don't let it boil. Your goal here is to simply melt the cheese in the half-and-half. As soon as you've done so, remove the pan from the heat and pour the liquid into a heat-proof bowl. It will look like a cheese sauce and it's okay if there are a few lumps of cheese -- it won't be completely smooth.
- Bring to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. As the liquid chills, it will solidify to resemble a soft, fine ricotta cheese. This takes a couple of hours.
- To poach the pears, begin by using a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the lemon. Then squeeze its juice to produce about 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice.
- In a large saucepan combine the wine, water, sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve all the sugar.
- Add the peeled, whole pears to the poaching liquid and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. It's okay if the pears are not completely submerged but turn them over occasionally while they poach.
- Cook for about 30 to 45 minutes. The cooking time will vary depending on the size and ripeness of your pears.
- The pears are done when tender and easily pierced with a paring knife. Remove from the heat and let cool in the hot liquid. If you want a syrup to serve with the pears, remove the fruit from the pan after they're cooled and then boil the remaining poaching liquid for about 25 minutes until reduced to about 1 1/2 cups of a slightly thickened sauce.
- The pears can be poached a day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator, although bring them to room temperature before serving for their best flavor.
When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and using a serving spoon or small ice cream scoop, place a round of the "foam" alongside a poached pear. The foam will have the consistency of slightly softened butter and the flavor of the Parmesan cheese.
Makes around 8 generous servings. You can make the foam up to two days in advance, refrigerated. Any leftovers can be spread on bread or be a delicious addition to sandwiches.
Tip: To enable a whole, poached pear to stand up while it cooks and for serving, just slice off its bottom to create a flat surface.
Tip: If you want to serve half of a poached pear, slice it from top to bottom and use a melon baller to neatly and easily remove its core and seeds.