This is a dish that I've seen Ina prepare a few times. What I mean by that is that I've seen the episode in which she prepares this a few times, and yes, I always watch Ina, even when I've seen the episode more than once. So, I just saw this episode again the other day, and it seemed like a perfect dessert for this time of year. It looked so simple, and the plumped dried fruit looked like it would add great flavor and texture. The other inspiration for this poached fruit dish was a bottle of Essensia dessert wine which I received as a sample from Quady Winery. Ina suggested vin santo or sauternes, but any sweet, dessert wine would work well. The Essensia smelled like fruit and honey and the flavor was sweet, without being too much so, and there were hints of citrus. This is not a syrupy dessert wine, and the sweetness is well-balanced. The alcohol content is 15 percent which is in the range of vin santo in which the alcohol is usually between 14 and 17 percent. This would be a lovely wine to sip with some goat cheese and honey, and it was delicious as a poaching liquid for pears.
The perfect poached fruit recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa Parties! book and it's also on the Food Network site. The pears were peeled and then seeded from the bottom. As suggested, I used a melon baller to cut into the base of each pear and remove the seeds. Then, the poaching liquid was made from the wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, one split vanilla bean, a few whole cloves, and julienned strips of orange and lemon zest. That mixture was brought to a boil so as to dissolve the sugar, and then it simmered for 10 minutes. The pears were added and left to poach in the simmering, fragrant elixir for 20 minutes or until tender, and they were turned once during that time. Last, dried figs, apricots, and prunes were added and allowed to simmer until plumped.
This was a comforting dish with the warmth of the spices, brightness of the citrus, and freshness of the pears. The combination of fruits and spices in the wine sauce tasted like pie without the crust. I was struck by the richness of it given that it was just fruit, wine, sugar and spices and had to stop and think about the fact that it was a fat-free dessert. It wasn't calorie-free, but it was fat-free. This can be made in advance and chilled, and since leftovers continue to absorb the flavor from the poaching liquid, it gets even better by the next day.