When I told my colleagues at work that I had hosted a dinner party on a Thursday night, they thought I was nuts.
Standing by the water cooler in the kitchen, they just shook their heads as if to say, what were you thinking?
I shrugged it off. “Haven’t you heard? Thursday is the new Friday!” I said, brightly.
Their foreheads wrinkled in disbelief.
Really, it’s simple, I said, advancing my case. All you have to do is come up with a main course that is relatively easy to prepare and ask the guests to bring the starter and the dessert.
I didn’t happen to mention that the party was so successful in part because my friend, Lou, is a phenomenal amateur pastry chef, and my friend, Carrie, is a genius at creating her own dishes sans recipe.
I deliberately chose prosciutto-wrapped salmon as the main course because it was so easy. An hour of prep was all I needed.
Carrie prepped in advance six goat cheese buttons infused with balsamic vinegar for her delicious, late-season tomato and basil salad, and Lou, well, Lou managed to prepare what possibly could be the single best dessert I’ve ever had – pears poached in red wine with mascarpone whip.
With friends like these, Thursday really can be the new Friday.
I begged Lou for the recipe, which he says was adapted from two recipes, one by Michael Chiarello and the other from the The Silver Spoon cookbook. Lucky for me, he agreed and wrote it out with easy-to-follow instructions.
Allow me to present Lou's dessert:
Red Wine Poached Pears with Mascarpone Whip
Courtesy of my good friend, Lou Cantolupo
Poaching the pears
6 ripe Bartlett pears (Bartletts work best due to their shape, flavor, and availability)
1 bottle Rioja red wine
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 coarsely crushed cloves (smashed with flat part of knife)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
8 ounces mascarpone, softened to room temp.
1/2 pint heavy cream for whipping
3 heaping tablespoons of honey
1 heaping tablespoon of whole lavender
Soak the lavender buds in 2 tablespoons of hot tap water for 5 minutes and then drain, saving the buds. In a one-quart pot over a medium flame, add the cream and heat until it starts to steam a little; do not bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, add the lavender, stir, and then cover for 5 minutes. Filter through a wire mesh filter lined with cheesecloth into a new container and place that container in an ice bath.
Pour the wine, 2 cups of water and sugar into a large pot and bring to a light simmer. Add the cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, bay leaf, and cloves.
While the wine is simmering, cut off the top part of the pear (with stem) and slice about 1/2 inch from the bottom so the pear stands up straight. Peel the pear using a vegetable peeler and remove the core using an apple corer. If the pears are ripe the corer should go right through them; if not you may have to force it a bit, but be careful not to damage the pear. After peeling/coring each pear, lightly rub them with lemon juice to prevent browning. Save the residual cores.
Bring the wine mixture to a boil and gently add the remaining lemon juice and pears using a slotted spoon. It does not matter if the pears are upright or on their side, just make sure they are covered with the liquid. Return the liquid to a light simmer, cover, and poach for 15 minutes.
Very gently remove the pears with a slotted spoon and stand each upright on a plate to cool. When removing the pears from the liquid, it helps to use a chopstick inserted down the hole since the pear will be hot. Some of the pears may have a peppercorn or clove stuck in them. If so gently pry them out using a toothpick. Cool to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap.
Add the pear cores to the liquid and using a potato masher carefully break the cores apart to release the extra juices and simmer for five minutes.
Carefully pour the hot wine mixture into a new pot through a cheesecloth lined fine wire mesh filter to remove the spices and pear bits. Add the vanilla and salt and return to a high boil and reduce to a final volume of 1/2 a cup. The liquid should be very syrupy. Run the syrup through a mesh filter again (not a cheesecloth) into a new container. Set aside.
Lou says, “As you can see this recipe makes quite a mess in the kitchen but it’s very simple. I’ve been using the 'Thomas Keller' method of sauce making: anytime you go from one container to another, filter, no matter how mundane the change over may be. It’s a bitch but it really does make a difference.”Using a heavy spatula, mix the mascarpone and honey together.
In a separate bowl, whip the lavender-infused cream until you have stiff peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone.
Place a pear on a plate and fill the center of using a pastry bag. (If you don’t have a pastry bag, use a plastic sandwich bag and cut a hole in one corner.)
Add a ring of syrup around the pear and then place a stem on top of each pear.