This dish, to me, is an assembly of wonderful sweet friends. Having one slab of meringue means serving it is dead easy. Feel free to make up your own topping combinations. Other good ones I really like are chestnut purée mixed with cream and chocolate, or other soft fruits with praline, or mixed toasted nuts and cream.
Preheat your oven to 150°C/300°F/gas 2 and line a 40 x 25cm baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper.
Put your egg whites into a squeaky clean bowl, making sure there are absolutely no little pieces of egg shell or egg yolk in them. Whisk on medium until the whites form firm peaks. With your mixer still running, gradually add the sugar and then pinch of salt. Turn the mixer up to the highest setting and whisk for about 7 or 8 minutes, until the meringue mixture is white and glossy. To test whether it’s done you can pinch some between your fingers – if it feels completely smooth it’s ready; if it’s slightly granular it needs a little more whisking.
Dot each corner of the greaseproof paper with a blob of meringue, then turn it over and stick it to the baking tray. Spoon the meringue out on to the paper. Using the back of a spoon, shape and swirl it into and A4 size rectangle. Place in the preheated oven and bake for an hour or until crisp on the outside and a little soft and sticky inside. At the same time, bake the hazelnuts on a separate tray in the oven for an hour or until golden brown.
Drain the tins of pears, reserving the syrup from one tin. Cut each pear half into three slices. Pour the pear syrup into a saucepan with the ginger and warm gently over a medium heat until it starts to simmer. Take off the heat and snap the chocolate into the saucepan, stirring with a spoon until it’s all melted.
Take the meringue and hazelnuts out of the oven and leave to cool. Place the meringue on a nice rustic board or platter. Whip the cream with the sifted icing sugar and the vanilla seeds until it forms smooth, soft peaks. Smash the toasted hazelnuts (in a tea towel) and sprinkle half of them over the top of the meringue. Spoon half the whipped cream over the top and drizzle with some of the chocolate sauce (if the sauce has firmed up, melt it slightly by holding the saucepan over a large pan of boiling water). Divide most of the pear pieces evenly over the top. Pile over the rest of the whipped cream and pears. Drizzle with some more chocolate sauce, then sprinkle over the remaining toasted hazelnuts with some grated orange zest. Serve straight away. If you’re making this in advance, get everything ready and assemble at the last minute.