Some years ago my wife and I made a whirlwind trip across the French countryside winding up on the Cote de Azur in the South of France. Spending a magical evening in Cannes at the Hotel Martinez on the Boulevard de la Croisette, we trekked the hillsides around the coastal towns along the Mediterranean.
A true fan of Provencal cooking and the great chefs, I had my sights set on a visit to the little town of Mougins and the very famous Moulin de Mougins home to Chef Roger Vergé. Vergé is a protégé of Paul Bocuse and a mentor to more contemporary chefs such as Daniel Boulud and many others. At the time, Vergé’s style of nouvelle cuisine helped usher in a renaissance of French cooking that stands to this day.
With no advance reservation, we arrived at the shrine of the legendary chef and pulled into the restaurant for an early lunch. It was closed. As is the custom on Mondays with most Michelin-rated restaurants, the chef and staff get one well-deserved day off. Our loss, their gain.
My time spent traveling in the South of France inspired me to create a dessert dish, and I offer this simple, yet elegant recipe in homage to his great talent. Chef Vergé long ago hung up his copper pots, but I do believe he would appreciate my salute to his love of rustic country cooking with fruit as showcased in this recipe.
Pears are a very familiar orchard staple throughout South Louisiana and this pairing with red wine and an almond-infused cream sauce is a natural combination. Stewing fresh fruit in a sweetened Pinot noir bath is dramatic enough, but when nestled in fresh cream steeped in Amaretto and sprinkled with toasted almonds, I do believe this South Louisiana dish is something Chef Vergé would be proud of.
Although the famous chef is no longer cooking at Moulin de Mougins, I do hope to return one day, however, not on a Monday.
- 1.5 liter bottle of red wine, such as pinot noir
- 2 cups pomegranate juice
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup sugarcane syrup
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground allspice
- 1 tablespoon ground whole cloves
- 8 pears, ripe but firm
- 4 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup almond-flavored liqueur, such as Amaretto
- 1 cup chopped almonds
- ½ cup mint leaves
- Peel the pears, but leave the stem intact. Cut the bottom of each pear so that it will stand on end.
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the wine and all the ingredients except the pears. While stirring, bring to a boil and immediately turn the heat down to a simmer. Add the pears and let cook until softened so that a bamboo skewer can slide easily into the center. Watch carefully as the time will vary with the ripeness of your pears, but no more than 20 minutes should be sufficient. Remove the pears and let the liquid cool to room temperature. In the same pot or in a container with a lid, submerge the pears so that all of the pear is covered in the wine-infused liquid. Cover, refrigerate and chill before serving.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the cream and slowly bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the amaretto. Stir the mixture and reduce by half. Add half of the chopped almonds to the sauce and stir. Remove from the heat and let come to room temperature before serving.
- For serving, pour the sauce onto a serving platter. Position the pears in the sauce standing on end with stem side up. Sprinkle the remaining chopped almonds around the platter and garnish with mint leaves. All guests can serve themselves by taking a pear from the platter and spooning on as much sauce as they like. Serve this dessert with a chilled sparkling wine.
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