Rhubarb compote welcomes spring

Entertaining: Tangy flavors blend well, and cooking technique preserves the celery shape of the fruit.


My husband, social creature that he is, hates to eat dinner alone. When work takes me out of town, he hints to friends that he is a bachelor for a few days and, as a result, always wangles a supper invitation from our friends. That is what he did this week when I was away on business. Typically, he brings wine to the hosts to show his appreciation, but this time I suggested that he take dessert instead.

I made this recommendation because the day before my departure I spent several hours in the kitchen working on a recipe for warm rhubarb and strawberry compotes garnished with orange-scented whipped cream. After myriad tries, I came up with a tempting version and realized I had plenty left over.

Rhubarb, which is a quintessential spring ingredient, is, in fact, a vegetable that is treated like a fruit. The long rosy stalks, which look like pink celery, are quite tart, so most recipes calling for rhubarb include a generous amount of sugar.

Rhubarb and strawberries are natural partners, and my idea to serve them together as a warm, juicy compote seemed reasonable until I started testing. Rhubarb disintegrates quickly when cooked, and although this is fine when it's used in cobblers or pies, I was determined to keep the rhubarb pieces for this creation intact. I discovered that if sliced rhubarb and sugar are heated together until the sugar liquefies and then removed from the heat, the rhubarb will continue to cook and soften, yet retain its shape.

The hosts wrote to tell me that these compotes were a perfect finale to a meal of grilled salmon steaks, potato salad and asparagus. Our friends mentioned that at dessert time they only had to reheat the rhubarb mixture and then garnish each serving with some orange-scented cream. They hinted that they would like the recipe, so I faxed it to them immediately.

Warm Rhubarb and Strawberry Compotes With Orange Cream

Serves 6

2 to 2 1/4 pounds rhubarb

(see Note)

1 cup granulated sugar

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1 pint strawberries, cleaned, hulled and quartered lengthwise

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

To prepare rhubarb, cut off and discard green leaves from top of stalks. Rinse stalks and pat dry, then cut crosswise into 1-inch slices. Cut enough to make 6 cups. Place rhubarb in large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan (with lid). Add granulated sugar, cornstarch and water and let mixture stand, uncovered, 10 minutes.

Place saucepan over medium heat and stir and cook until sugar has dissolved and liquefied and is just bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn heat to low, cover and cook only 1 minute longer. Remove from heat. Uncover and let stand until mixture has cooled slightly but is still warm, 10 to 15 minutes. Rhubarb will continue to cook and soften as it stands.

Stir in strawberries. (Rhubarb and strawberries can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat, stirring gently, until warmed through.)

When ready to serve, beat cream with electric mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks start to form, then add powdered sugar, liqueur and 1 teaspoon orange zest. Beat until firm.

Divide warm rhubarb-strawberry mixture among 6 (1-cup) souffles, ramekins or custard cups. Garnish each serving with dollop of cream and with small sprinkling of remaining 1 teaspoon orange zest.

Note: The green leaves on rhubarb contain oxalic acid and are poisonous, so be sure to trim and discard them before using the stalks.

Pub Date: 05/09/99

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