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Winter Riches

February 23, 1986|BETSY BALSLEY | Betsy Balsley is The Times' food editor

Summer's Bartletts may be better known, but the delicate flavors of winter pears shouldn't be ig nored. Bosc, Anjou and comice pears, the most readily available this time of year, are clearly different from the warm-weather varieties. Maybe it's the cool weather that makes them seem richer. Or maybe it's that winter pears face less competition from other seasonal fruits. Whatever the reason, now's the time to enjoy them.

Not all winter pears change color as they ripen. To test the Bosc and Anjou varieties, gently ( very gently, to avoid bruising the delicate flesh) press the stem end. If the flesh gives slightly, the fruit is ready for eating or cooking. The comice will change color only slightly as it ripens--from green to greenish yellow with a soft rosy patch here and there.

Don't refrigerate pears until they are fully ripened; instead, leave them in a cool spot on the counter or in a fruit-ripening bowl. Once they are ripe, use them as soon as possible.

Although all pears are good when eaten au naturel , some of the cold-weather varieties are almost better when cooked. You'll find suggestions for using these winter fruits on the next page. PRODUCED BY ROBIN TUCKER ACCESSORIES FROM GEARY'S, BEVERLY HILLS FLOWERS BY THE KENSINGTON GREEN, BEVERLY HILLS BRANDIED PEAR SLICES 3 pears 3 tablespoons butter or margarine cup sugar Pecan halves 1 cup whipping cream 2 tablespoons apricot brandy

Core and slice pears. Melt butter in chafing dish and saute pear slices until tender. Sprinkle with sugar and add cup pecan halves. Stir gently to glaze. Whip cream until soft peaks form. Sprinkle brandy over cream and continue whipping until almost stiff. Serve over hot pears. Garnish with extra pecan halves. Makes 6 servings. GOLDEN POACHED PEARS Lemon juice 1 quart water 6 pears 2 cups apricot nectar 1 cup sugar 1 teaspoon lemon peel 1/2 cup Sherry Softened ice cream or whipped cream

Stir 2 tablespoons lemon juice into water in deep bowl. Peel pears, leaving them whole with stems on. Place pears in water mixture as they are peeled to prevent discoloring.

Combine apricot nectar, sugar, lemon peel and cup lemon juice in deep saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add Sherry. Drain pears and place in simmering syrup. Cook over low heat until pears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes, basting and turning occasionally. Chill pears in apricot syrup.

To serve, place spoonful of ice cream or whipped cream in bottom of 6 individual dessert dishes. Place poached pear in each dish. Serve with additional apricot syrup, if desired. Makes 6 servings. PEARS MONA LISA 6 pears Juice of 2 lemons 1 cup water 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 6 baked tart shells Prepared chocolate sauce

Peel pears, leaving them whole with stems on. Core from bottom and place in deep saucepan. Mix lemon juice, water, sugar and vanilla and pour over pears. Bring syrup to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until pears are tender. Remove pears from syrup, drain and chill thoroughly. To serve, stand pears upright in pastry shells and drizzle with chocolate sauce. Makes 6 servings. GRATED PEAR SNOW 2 cups grated, peeled pears, about 3 medium cup lemon juice Dash salt 6 tablespoons sugar 2 egg whites Grated unsweetened chocolate

Combine pears and lemon juice immediately after grating to prevent darkening. Stir in salt and 2 tablespoons sugar. Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually beat in remaining 4 tablespoons sugar and continue beating until stiff. Fold in grated pear mixture. Spoon into dessert dishes and chill or serve immediately. Garnish with grated chocolate. Makes 8 servings. FRESH PEAR FRITTERS 1 cup buttermilk baking mix 1 tablespoon sugar 2 eggs, beaten cup milk 1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted 3 to 4 pears, cored and cut in 8 wedges Oil Grand Marnier Syrup

Combine baking mix and sugar. Stir together eggs, milk and melted butter. Mix with baking mix and sugar just until dry ingredients are well moistened. Dip pear wedges into batter; allow excess to drain. Deep fry in oil heated to 375 degrees 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with Grand Marnier Syrup or maple syrup, or sprinkle with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, if desired. Makes about 32 fritters. Grand Marnier Syrup 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water 1/2 cup honey cup Grand Marnier liqueur 1 1/2 tablespoons arrowroot

Combine 1 cup water, honey and liqueur in saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring. Mix together arrowroot and 3 tablespoons water. Stir into honey mixture and cook just until thickened, stirring frequently. PEARS AQUILLA 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese 1 tablespoon honey 3 tablespoons rum 3 large or 6 small pears Lemon leaves Instant coffee powder

Combine cheese, honey and rum and beat until smooth. Chill. Peel, core and halve pears. Arrange on lemon leaves on dessert plates. Fill pear cavities with cheese mixture and sprinkle with coffee to taste. Makes 6 servings.

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