This post is a long time in the works. I had a dish very similar to this last year in the Tannery as a starter and couldn’t wait to try to recreate it. It is quite festive in flavours so I wanted to wait until near enough to Christmas to post. Unfortunately this means I’m back to poor pictures in artificial light.
If you are looking to make a special starter I would think this is ideal. Maybe one for Christmas day? Everyone who tasted it loved it, but then my family might be biased! All of the elements can be prepared in advance and simply brought up to room temperature before serving. The poached pears can be stored in the poaching syrup for several days in a jar in the fridge and as the panna cotta needs time to set, it can be stored in the fridge over night. The crumb will keep in an airtight jar for a few days. Don’t skip the crumb, it is an important part of the dish.
Just a few notes:
-If you are making this for vegetarians, replace the gelatine with agar or suitable vegetarian gelatine such as Dr. Oetker Vege-Gel, make sure the blue cheese you use is suitable (not all are) and obviously leave the bacon out of the crumb.
– If you want to make the panna cotta a bit cheesier, grate some parmesan into the mixture at the beginning. Again, leave it out for vegetarians.
– If making the panna cotta seems daunting – it’s really simple I assure you – just served the pears and crumb with little pieces of blue cheese.
– I have used hazelnuts in the crumb but walnuts would also work well.
– If you want to you can use a bottle of mulled wine to poach the pears in. The left over wine can be frozen and used again to poach more pears or you could add some vanilla to it and use it for a dessert. You will have more pears than you need but you might as well poach a few pears while you’re at it.
- 4 pears, I use conference pears
- 500ml red wine
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- Half an orange and it’s zest
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 4 leaves of gelatine
- 250ml full fat milk
- 150ml double cream
- 150g blue cheese of your choice
- 50ml dry white wine
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 slices of bread, crusts removed
- Olive oil
- 30g hazelnuts
- 2 slices of smoked streaky bacon
- Start by making your poached pears. Use a saucepan that will fit the pears snugly and pour in the wine.
- Add the cinnamon, star anise and sugar to the pan. Zest half the orange while it is still whole and add the zest to the pan. Zesting it will release the oils from the skin and get more flavour into the wine. Cut the orange in half and put one piece into the wine. Bring it to a low boil while you prep the pears.
- Simple peel the pears and add to the wine when it is reaching boiling point. Lower the temperature to a simmer and cover the pot. Allow to poach until the pears can be easily pierced with a skewer, approximately 20 minutes. When poached, remove from the heat but allow the pears to cool in the pot with the wine.
- Start making the panna cotta by putting the gelatine leaves into cold water to soften them for 10 minutes.
- Pour the milk, cream and wine into a saucepan and warm them over a medium heat. Crumble in the blue cheese and add the crushed garlic. Stir until the blue cheese is melted into the mixture – large pieces of the blue mould will not melt completely.
- Remove from the heat and grate in some nutmeg. Taste for seasoning and add some salt and pepper if you feel it needs it.
- Remove the gelatine leaves from the water and squeeze them to remove as much excess water as possible. Add them to the blue cheese mixture and stir well to dissolve the gelatine.
- Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into the moulds and stir it occasionally. This is to stop the mixture from splitting and to prevent the cheese from settling at the bottom. The larger pieces will settle anyway so don’t worry too much about that.
- Use 4 x 125ml moulds, dariole moulds are ideal for this. I lightly oiled my moulds to make it easier to release the panna cotta. To be honest, I’m not sure if it made any difference but it certainly did not do any harm. Give the mixture one last stir before pouring it into the moulds and put them in the fridge to set for at least 6 hours.
- To make the crumb, preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with some parchment paper. Tear up the bread and lightly sprinkle over some some oil. Put the bread onto the baking tray with the hazelnuts and toast in the oven for 12-15 minutes until they become a light golden colour.
- Grill the bacon until it is crispy, drain it on kitchen paper and allow it to cool.
- Remove the bread and nuts from the oven. Give the hazelnuts a quick rub with a clean tea towel to remove any skin and pour them, the bread and the bacon into a blender. Pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs with some larger pieces still there for texture. Store in an airtight jar in a cool dry place.
- When ready to serve, remove the pears and panna cotta from the fridge to bring to room temperature. Core the pears and cut them in half. I use half a pear per serving but use the whole pear if you like. Slice the pear and arrange onto a plate.
- Put some boiling water into a small bowl and put the panna cotta mould into this for a few seconds. Turn the mould upside down on the plate to release the panna cotta. If it sticks give it a bit of a shake or run a knife around the edge to free it up. Arrange the crumb on the plate with some parsley leaves for a garnish.
- If you like, put some of the poaching wine into a saucepan and simmer it for a few minutes to reduce it slightly. Keep an eye on it, it can caramalise quickly. Spoon it over the pear.