Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

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Ambrosia. Strawberry rhubarb compote is food for the gods.

I love rhubarb. I love strawberry rhubarb pie.

Rhubarb is such an incongruous plant. It is sometimes called, “pie plant”. The leaves are poisonous. The stems are edible, but very sour and must be cooked with some sugar in order to be palatable. But, not too much sugar, or the vegetable becomes cloying.

Last year, I had a rhubarb tart at a restaurant (Scala’s Bistro in San Francisco) that was so delicious, I still dream about it. In fact, I asked for the recipe the last time we went to the restaurant , and the pastry chef graciously sent the recipe to me. Unfortunately, it makes a little too large a quantity of dough and the filling part is in chef-speak. I think you just have to have a good feel for the ingredient and fillings to know how long to cook it. If I ever attempt the recipe, in a small quantity, I’ll post the result.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, I bought some rhubarb at the market – brilliant crimson and stalky. I had never bought it before, never cooked with it. I thought the girls might like it (a vegetable for dessert) and looked in my trusty Joy of Cooking for a recipe. Not wanting to make a whole pie, I happened upon the compote recipe. I haven’t looked back. Like many recipes in cooking bibles, the ingredient list leaves some room for interpretation – 1/2 to 1 cup sugar. There is a lot of room for defining your own recipe.

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Since that time, strawberry rhubarb compote has been a favorite treat for our family. L & J really love it. We even put a rhubarb plant in the garden. I didn’t know until I bought the plant that not all rhubarb is bright red. Of course, I didn’t pick the plant based on the stalks – it was a tiny and unassuming seedling at the time. It is now thriving and huge in our garden, mostly green stalks, with a little bit of crimson right where it comes out of the ground. Tastes the same as the red stuff (which loses its color when it cooks anyway).

I don’t cook the strawberries with the rhubarb for my compote. They go into the hot rhubarb and get soft from the residual heat, that way they retain their perfect strawberry flavor. And, I like the compote fairly tart – feel free to up the sugar in the recipe.

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I think this compote is best served at cool room temperature, with some shortbread cookies. L & J like to have a container of the compote in their lunchboxes. It is also good over served with vanilla ice cream, or mixed into yogurt with a little honey, or straight out of the refrigerator with a spoon, when no one is looking.

Next time, I might even put a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche on top and then sprinkle it with a little extra brown sugar….

Here is the recipe.

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Serves 8 (or 6 generous helpings)

1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb stalks, rinsed
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
Zest of 1 orange, optional
1 pint fresh ripe strawberries, rinsed, hulled and quartered

Cut the rhubarb stalks into 3/4 inch pieces (you should have about 5 cups). Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a medium saucepan, no heat. Let the rhubarb sugar mixture rest for about 15 minutes, until the rhubarb is starting to sweat and lose some moisture. Put the saucepan over medium heat and start to cook, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb is soft and starting to fall apart. This only takes about 5 minutes, maybe 7. Remove the rhubarb from the heat.

Add the quartered strawberries and the orange zest to the rhubarb mixture and stir to combine. Let the mixture sit until cooled.

Eat immediately, or place a container and refrigerate.

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