So, spring has sprung most definitively here in D.C. and we’ve all got the horrific allergies to prove it. Snot aside, however, the other of spring’s harbingers have also arrived. And I, for one, am far more excited to reach for the rhubarb than the Kleenex. This quick little compote is a sweet and tangy pinch hitter that will add welcome zing to just about anything. Though I fancied it up with biscuits and whipped cream for shortcakes, it’s just as tasty dolloped on yogurt or even swirled into a dirtied pork chop pan with a little shallot and port for a delicious pan sauce.
Also known as “pie plant” for its heroic thickening abilities and it’s winning way with pastry, rhubarb makes for an early spring’s change from winter’s last citrus… they’re similarly bright and tangy but while oranges are, well, ORANGE, rhubarb tastes of pink and red and NOT ORANGE. Which is cool when you’re dying for something new in cold and windy spring. There are, however, a few Rules for Rhubarb.
Trim carefully: The green leaves are poisonous and it’s the pinky red stalks (they also come in green) we’re after. Stalks should be firm and crisp, not bendy and sad. Thinner stalks may be less stringy.
Sugar: You’ll need to use a bit as rhubarb is quite astringent. The traditional pairing with strawberries helps keep the added sugar to a minimum, though. And, really, if you’re in the market for something uber-sweet, go buy a bag of Circus Peanuts.
Cook carefully: Just a quick spell on the stove is enough; fairly low heat and gentle stirring will keep the rhubarb from completely disintegrating. Not that disintegration is the end of the world. It’s still tasty, just a little less interesting texturally. Roasting is also a neat way to cook rhubarb, but more on that later.
Super Secret Bonus Rule: Finally, if you have it, a tiny little bit of grapefruit oil–either from a bottle or in zest form–magically makes rhubarb more rhubarb-y. Just a little, though. It’s weird, yes, but a trick on par with adding a dribble of balsamic vinegar to strawberries enhances their flavor tremendously.
Yield: ~3 cups
1 lb rhubarb
1/2 c sugar (or more, to your taste)
1/4 tsp salt
1 drop grapefruit oil or 1/4 tsp finely grated grapefruit zest (optional)
1 qt fresh strawberries
Trim tops and bottoms from rhubarb and cut into even ~1/2″ pieces. (Thin stalks can just be sliced crosswise; thick ones will likely need to be cut lengthwise as well.) Off the heat, combine rhubarb, sugar, salt, and optional drop of grapefruit oil in a medium saucepan and stir. Let sit for 5 minutes, tossing about occasionally, so the rhubarb starts to release its juices. Put the pan on medium-low heat and cook gently for about 8 minutes. Stir gently throughout cooking, trying not to break up the rhubarb too much. Remove pot from heat when thickest bits of rhubarb can be pierced easily with a knife. Pour into a non-reactive bowl and let cool.
Just prior to serving, slice strawberries and fold into the rhubarb mixture. Serve immediately over granola, yogurt, ice cream, or in shortcakes.
Notes & Variations:
For a gorgeous pie (courtesy of who else but Rose), keep the strawberries and the rhubarb separate. Spread the rhubarb mixture into a baked and cooled pie shell and layer over sliced strawberries in an appealing pattern. Glaze with a bit of melted red berry jam.