Here are two pear recipes, both simplicity personified. In either case, begin by taking two pears, juicy, still firm, underripe even, then…
1) … bake them
Don’t even bother to peel them. Halve them lengthways (keep the stalks on if you can). Put them in a lightly buttered (or even olive oiled) oven dish. Squeeze on the juice of a fat orange, sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake slowly for half an hour in a hot oven.
OK, it might look messy in the baking dish, but that’s not the point. The juices should reduce to an intense, caramelly gloop of a sauce. Take care it doesn’t burn.
Serve warm or cold, with cream or natural yoghurt that has been flavoured with a couple of drops of vanilla extract. I said extract.
2) … poach them
This needs slightly more work and attention.
Peel the pears with a veg peeler, try to leave the stalks on as before. Slice off the base if you want the finished pears to stand up on the plate.
Put the pears in a pan, cover with some reasonably priced but quaffable red wine and a generous sprinkle of white sugar (not too much – you can always add more afterwards).
Simmer gently. Turn the pears every three or four minutes if they aren’t fully submerged; you’ll want them to end up with a fairly uniform colour, almost as red as a beetroot on the outside yet still creamy white within.
They are ready when just tender when pierced with a knife. This can take four to 14 minutes, depending on how ripe / underripe are. Err on the side of slightly undercooked rather than boiled mush.
With a spoon, gently remove the pears to a bowl. Cool then refrigerate.
Turn up the heat on the wine mixture, boil off two thirds of the liquid. Once reduced, take it off the heat to cool.
To plate up, pour a spoon of the wine reduction over each pear. Add a dollop of icecream, cream or crème fraîche.
Variants on this recipe include cider instead of wine; honey or redcurrant jelly instead of sugar. For a comforting Christmassy aroma, add a cinnamon stick and / or a couple of cloves or even peppercorns, then remove the spices before serving.
Instead of wine you could make a light vanilla syrup: 100g of sugar plus 250 ml of water and either half a split vanilla pod or a splash of vanilla extract. I said extract. Not essence. Never vanilla essence. Never ever ever. Now that would be criminal.