Although pears were only the second “dish” I made for the baby, I was already getting impatient to move onto more exciting things. I had been trying to adhere to the “only introduce one new food at a time” rule, which meant that with only apples under his belt (also, his chin, neck rolls and toes, somehow, and do not even try to wipe his face, okay?) I couldn’t jump into the pear-parsnips, pear-peaches and pear-prunes I was chomping at the bit to whiz up. Sure, I could add cinnamon to plain pears, but I really don’t want the baby to think that all cooked fruit tastes like cinnamon, especially when the hope is to introduce new flavors. So I decided to hedge things a little — yes, this is what counts as “walking on the wild side” in these post-salad days — and added a little vanilla bean and a glug of an aged, sweet balsamic vinegar.
Unless you’ve macerated strawberries in balsamic before and know how utterly sinful the fruit-balsamic combination can be, you’re likely having the same reaction right now that my husband did, “Vinegar? With pears? Ew.” But it’s just a tiny bit, and it gives the mellow pears more oomph and more depth. I know this sounds a little rich for a 7-month old’s blood — aged balsamic and vanilla beans? Have you gone off the deep end, Deb? — but were talking about tiny, tiny amounts, a tablespoon and an inch or two. The idea is to give the suggestion of a new flavor, something to hold him off until he can taste the wonder that is vanilla roasted pears.
Oh, and the baby LOVED these pears, that is, the spoonfuls he could pry from his mama’s grasp.
Vanilla Bean Pear Sauce
A few notes: The pears look utterly awful because I bought them at the Greenmarket in early April, when cold-storage apples and pears were the only fruit available; apples weather those long months more elegantly. However, once peeled they were indeed delicious Boscs, tastier by far (oh, and a heckofalot cheaper) than I’d get at the grocery store that week.
I used a pretty fancy-schmancy balasamic. I bought it years ago at a fancy-schmancy store in Paris and paid such a fancy-schmancy price for it, I could never bring myself to use it. This is why I don’t buy nice things (anymore), people. Fortunately, any regular balsamic will do. Once it hits the heat, the acidity disappears and you’re left with a syrupy depth that makes a lovely complement to the pears’ mildness.
1 3/4 pounds pears (I used Bosc)
A 2-inch length of vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
Peel, halve, core and de-stem pears. Chop them in half again if they are particularly large. Place pears in a medium saucepan with the vanilla bean segments and scrapings, or extract, balsamic and water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer; cook with the lid on for 30 minutes, or until the pears are very tender. Let cool in their cooking liquid. Fish out the vanilla bean segment and puree pears in a food processor, blender or food mill.
Check out the Tools page for more on the ABC’s of how I’m approaching the preparation, storage and daily serving of these foods.