One of my most formative (and perhaps most scarring) culinary memories involves me as an outspoken adolescent, an older family member, and an infamous rhubarb pie. I was staying with a generous relative while my parents were away. I was 15 or 16, and I thought I was everything that a teenager could hope to be. I was loud. I was probably fairly insufferable with my talk of rights and wrongs, egalitarianism and feminism and the patriarchy.
The one of the desserts that weekend was a rhubarb pie that I found too tart, too sharp in flavor, but didn’t have the courage to say as much. I claimed to be too full from dinner to finish the pie and thought the hostess was joking when she said “if you don’t finish it now, you’ll have it for breakfast!” She wasn’t joking. The slice of pie followed me through the weekend, dogging me with it tartness and my inability to politely decline.
Now I love rhubarb’s bracing tartness and sharpness. It definitely needs a good dose of sweetness to balance it, but it is one of the culinary highlights of my late spring and early summer. This simple compote celebrates the stem’s beautiful color and strong flavor. In these photos I paired it with toasted coconut shortbread and greek yogurt, but I also dolloped it on ice cream as a topping, turned it into a fool by folding it into whipped cream, and churned it with coconut cream for an absurdly delicious almost dairy-free ice cream.
The technique is simple and versatile. The recipe called for orange liqueur, but you could substitute another flavor – Lillet would be a sophisticated option, and raspberry would boost the gorgeous color and be a little more child-palate-friendly. You could replace the butter with coconut oil for a vegan, parve option. I had great success adding tiny, beautiful farmers market strawberries to a batch – their little seeds adding lovely texture.
Our weeks have been full of rhubarb’s luscious tang and vibrant hue. I ate it for dessert, I ate it for a snack, I even ate it for breakfast. And I loved it!
- 1 pound (455 grams) rhubarb stalks, rinsed, dried, trimmed and sliced into 1/2-1 inch pieces
- ½ to ¾ cup (100 to 150 grams) sugar
- 2 Tbsp. (28 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp. orange liqueur
- Toss the rhubarb and sugar in a bowl, coating the rhubarb chunks with sugar.
- Met the butter in a heavy saucepan (I used my beloved enameled cast iron pot) over medium heat.
- Add the rhubarb, sugar, and orange liqueur to the melted butter, allowing it to cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes, until the rhubarb begins to release its juices. Then gently stir.
- Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is very juicy and those juices begin to thicken. The compote is ready when the rhubarb is tender and beginning to fall apart and the juices look thick, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Store in an airtight container (I used a 16 ounce wide-mouth mason jar with this lid) in the refrigerator, and serve cold, cool, or warm.