Here’s another trusty old recipe from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection (see blinis, colcannon potatoes, mushroom risotto, hot citrus pudding, pumpkin soup). It’s a 70s classic that has stood the test of time, perhaps because as a fruit-based dish it offers a lighter alternative to the heavy sweetness of other traditional puddings. The original is made with red wine but Marsala has a more complex flavour, or you can save money by using strong dry cider instead. ‘Each version has its own particular charm,’ says Delia.
8 large hard pears
50g caster sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
1 rounded dessertspoon arrowroot
500ml crème fraîche
Preheat the oven to 130°C (110 fan).
Peel the pears, leaving the stalks intact, then slice off a thin disc from the base of each so they can sit upright. Lay the pears on their side in a large casserole dish, sprinkle over the sugar, pour in the Marsala and add the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod.
Bring everything up to simmering point, then cover the casserole and bake the pears for about 1-1½ hours. Turn the pears onto their other side and return to the oven for a further 1-1½ hours. Cooking time will depend upon how hard your pears were to start with.
Transfer the pears to a serving bowl to cool, leaving the liquid in the casserole. Remove the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod and place the casserole over direct heat. In a cup, mix the arrowroot with a little cold water to make a smooth paste. Whisk this into the casserole and bring the syrup just up to simmering point, so that it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and when it is cool, spoon the syrup over the pears, basting them well.
Cover the pears with foil or clingfilm and put them in the fridge to chill thoroughly. Serve them sitting upright in individual dishes with the sauce spooned over and crème fraîche on the side.