What if one day you run out of recipes? I remember when my grandma asked me this innocent question a few years ago, worried that all of a sudden I could find myself in front of a blank page, without ideas, an empty pantry, clean pots, a bewildered look on my face. The end of inspiration. At first I felt a shiver running down my spine, a feeling of discomfort. Will it ever happen?
This irrational fear lasted only a split second, it has been years since then and the list of recipes to try, to taste with closed eyes in a moment of perfect bliss or to devour while no one looks, selfishly enjoying the last slice of cake, is still far from reaching the end.
Here comes an element that has always intrigued me: the concept of inspiration. Inspiration and creativity have ignited the minds of men since the beginning of history, from the early paintings on cave walls to the masterpieces of the Classical age, the Renaissance and Romanticism.
I do not shine for creativity. What inspires me is usually season and tradition. If I have to think about a new recipe I look at what has been cooked for ages in my family, or in Tuscan families. I look at market stalls, fascinated by colours and textures. This is the sparkle of my inspiration.
I’ve been reflecting about the concepts of inspiration and creativity since I found myself in front of the brief for a new assignment. Masi requested me to create twelve recipes that could match the Campofiorin wine in different occasions, from an aperitivo with friends to an elegant dinner, from a family lunch to a modern brunch. I decided to demand my inspiration to seasonality, tradition and the visual impact that these recipes could have. I chose recipes that intrigued me, recipes that could tell a story, recipes I wanted to work on to get to my perfect version and recipes that were as good as beautiful to look at.
This is the first post of a new collaboration: once a month, in the course of a year, I will present you a recipe which will team up perfectly with a versatile red wine, Campofiorin. An excellent accompaniment to a great variety of food, its fruitiness and acidity guarantee its suitability for the clean and balanced flavours of the Mediterranean diet, the complexity of rich foods and the strongly flavoured, spicy, sweet-and-sour tastes of African and Asiatic cuisine.
We begin today with red wine poached pears with chocolate sauce, sleek and sensual, delicately sweet, spiced.
In my opinion cooked fruit is undervalued. I have already expressed my soft spot in this post. A dessert based on fruit is sensual, refined and unexpected. It can give a different tone to the usual dinner, it lends itself to so many combinations and, above all, it si not as heavy as a thick slice of buttery cake, although it leaves you with the same satisfaction.
Red wine poached pears with chocolate sauce
Poires Belle Hélène is a classic French dessert created in 1864 by Auguste Escoffier, so called in honour of the operetta La Belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach. In Escoffier’s recipe pears are gently poached in a sugar syrup and served draped with chocolate sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. In my version, I replaced Escoffier’s sugar syrup with a spiced syrup made of red wine, water, sugar, star anise, cardamom and cinnamon.
- 750 ml (3 cups - 25,3 fl oz) of red wine
- 500 ml (2 cups - 17 fl oz) of water
- 250 g (1¼ cup - 8,8 oz) of caster sugar
- 2 star anise pods
- 10 cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 medium almost ripe pears
- 100 g (3/4 cup, grated - 3,5 oz) of dark chocolate
- 100 ml (7 tablespoons - 3,4 oz) of fresh whole milk
- Pour wine, water and sugar in a pot large enough to contain the four pears you have chosen. Also add spices and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, peel the pears, leaving the stem intact, remove the core and trim the base of the pears so that they can easily stand.
- Immerse the pears into the red wine syrup, lower the heat and cook for about an hour, covered, checking every now and then. They are supposed to be soft but perfectly intact. Let cool and place into the refrigerator until the next day.
- Before serving the pears, remove them from the fridge and bring them back at room temperature. Arrange them on a shallow bowl and drizzle with their syrup.
- Melt the chopped chocolate in a double boiler, then pour in the hot milk in a thin stream, stirring continuously to create a smooth sauce.
- Drizzle the hot chocolate sauce over the pears and serve, bringing to the table other chocolate sauce and spiced syrup for those who want to add more.
- Here you can find a few interesting versions of Poires Belle Hélène: one by Christophe Michalak, one by BBC Good Food, one by French Today.
- This is the photo taken by Hélène from the blog Tartelette which conquered my heart more than five years ago and got sticked to my mind, something which has been an inspiration ever since: spices poached pears with warm chocolate sauce and vanilla bean ice-cream, her personal version of the classic Poires Belle Hélène. Check also her recipe for poached pears with sumac and creme fraiche.
- This is a video I watch at least twice a year, a great inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert on genius and creativity.