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Of all the rhubarb recipes in the annual rotation around here, rhubarb orange compote is the most elegant and versatile, pretty in pink and orange. No question that it is fussy to make but worth every step.
Linda Gillies, an island neighbor, gave me this recipe quite a few years ago. She likes it with yogurt for breakfast. I made the compote this weekend for a farm-to-table dinner I cooked for Allison Lakin at East Forty Farm in Waldoboro, where we used it on one of her Lakin’s Gorges cheeses for a dessert course. Spooned over a semi-soft cheese, it made a great not-so-sweet finish to a meal. You could also try it on vanilla ice cream or pound cake.
Right now is the height of rhubarb season. I saw a bucket sitting by the edge of the road the other day full of rhubarb stalks, and a sign that said, “Free.” Farmers markets, farm stands and your neighbors are great sources of really fresh rhubarb.
I used juice oranges because the skins are thinner and, in accordance with their name, you get more juice when you squeeze them. Orange sweetens up rhubarb beautifully, a more flavorful alternative to sugar. Julienned peel baked with the rhubarb in an orange syrup candies a little, then uncooked orange pieces stirred in round out the dish. Part of the beauty of the compote comes from the shreds of translucent peel. The blanching step reduces the bitterness of the peel, so don’t omit that. If you’re really pressed for time, you could skip julienning the orange peel and just make a sugar and orange juice syrup to bake the rhubarb in.
The recipe calls for cognac. Linda skips the cognac if she eats this at breakfast. I’ve used Grand Marnier from time to time or my own homemade orange vodka. The recipe calls for not much, so just think of it as a flavoring. It adds a nice depth, and you truly won’t end up with post-breakfast alcohol breath if you put the compote on your granola.
P.S. After reading the asparagus soup recipe in last week’s column, William Nelson of Belfast inquired if he could make the soup with the cream added and then freeze some. I wrote that I almost never freeze soups with milk or cream in them. Instead, I wait to add cream until I have thawed and heated the soup. Partly that is because I can take up less space in my freezer if I just freeze soup bases.
William wrote back after a visit to the Belfast farmers market where he bought a bunch of asparagus and asked the vendor about freezing with or without cream. The vendor had no advice, he wrote, “But a handsome older woman had heard the story and said, ‘Just go ahead and freeze it. Stir it when it thaws. I’m 73 years old, and I’ve been doing just that for 50 years.’”
So there you have it. Make the soup, eat some now, freeze some for later.
Rhubarb Orange Compote
Yields about a quart
5 juice oranges
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
4 cups (about 6 stalks) rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
2-3 tablespoons cognac (optional, to taste)
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Using a peel or sharp knife, cut wide strips of peel from one orange trying to avoid the white pith as much as possible.
3. Drop into a small saucepan and cover with water, bring to a boil and boil for five minutes, then drain it.
4. Shred each piece of cooked peel into ⅛-inch-wide slivers. Kitchen scissors are very helpful with this step. Set aside.
5. Squeeze the juice from two oranges, including the one you took the peel from, and put the juice into a saucepan with the sugar. Cook until the sugar dissolves.
6. Spread the rhubarb pieces and the julienned orange strips in a shallow baking dish (9 by 13-inch works well.) Pour the sugar and juice syrup over it, and bake for about 25 minutes.
7. Allow to cool, and peel the remaining three oranges, cut into small pieces and stir into the baked rhubarb mixture.
8. Add cognac to taste.
9. Serve now or later. The compote stores well until use.