Compote Season

Well then. Now that I’m done teaching Hebrew school for the year, I can get back to ye olde blog. But honestly though, March is such a let down in terms of food. Then it was Passover, which I meant to write about, because let me tell you, we ate like kings every day of the holiday. But then April was unusually cold, which meant that the asparagus was late this year. It’s always the first week of May, but it was closer to a week and a half in before stalks started popping in my front yard.

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Rhubarb was also late this year, but has now officially started taking over people’s yards. Someone had so much of the plant that they put out a call on my beloved local Buy Nothing Facebook page, where my finds so far have included a nightstand, a bathroom clock, curtains, pizza, children’s snow pants, and, today, four free duck eggs.

I picked about 2 pounds worth of the ruby and emerald stalks, and was going to make it into a rhubarb compote, then use that to make a rhubarb spoon cake in Rich’s cast-iron skillet. But I only had a quarter cup of flour in the house, so compote was all I made in the end.

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However, inspiration struck as I was chopping up the rhubarb, and I added about 2 cups of cleaned and quartered fresh strawberries (bought for and rejected by the girls). I think if I’d had some fresh ginger on hand it would have rocketed this compote out of the stratosphere. All that being said, this brand new compote recipe is divine, and I even got the girls to bed a half hour earlier than usual tonight  because I needed to share this with you that badly.

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The rhubarb compote and spoon bread recipe is from Erin French’s The Lost Kitchen, which I wrote about last summer, because her custard with freshly picked blueberries and basil, remains one of the tastiest and most elegant desserts I have ever served.

I’ve enjoyed this on Greek yogurt (full fat, please) as well as on local vanilla ice cream. Yes, both; don’t judge, it needed to happen. The compote now sitting in a glass jar in my fridge and will last about a week. I mean, the compote will be good for about a week. I don’t see this lasting past Friday.

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Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote

Adapted from Erin French’s The Lost Kitchen

Ingredients

3 cups chopped rhubarb (1-inch pieces)

⅔ cup sugar

Zest of one lemon

Juice of one half lemon

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 cups cleaned and quartered fresh strawberries

Directions

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Bring to a summer over medium heat, stirring constantly until the rhubarb becomes tender and sauce-like, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cleaned strawberries and cook for about 4 more minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. This will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

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Lemonade was robbed.

Returned to my office after a short meeting this morning to discover that my colleague, who’d made the mistake of offhandedly remarking that there was too much rhubarb in her yard, had hung an enormous bagful on my door knob.

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With the temperature today and tomorrow soaring into the 90s, it’s far too hot to crank up the oven for the rhubarb spoon bread I’d bookmarked. But, as luck would have it, I stumbled across the perfect hot day recipe for rhubarb: Rhubarb lemonade.

It’s from the Sqirl cookbook, one of my Christmas/Chanukah gifts from Rich. I’d set the book aside in late December when I was annoyed to discover that every recipe that piqued my interest called for a food processor. I took the book out over this weekend in anticipation of my missing piece being replaced by Cuisinart. And yes, it finally came this week!

(Speaking of food processors: Do yourself a favor and put five ripe bananas in a large Ziploc bag and toss that in the freezer – I have a terrific dairy-free, gluten free pie coming your way. Peel them first!)

I have a lot to say about this cookbook, but I honestly can’t give it a fair shake until I test a few more of the recipes. But for now, let’s have pink lemonade.

The recipe calls for ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, from about 3 lemons, although two did the trick for me. Most of the prep time is hands off. The rhubarb syrup simmered away on a back burner while I made dinner. (Yay induction stove not heating up the kitchen!) The drink is sweet and refreshing and not at all tart.

Rhubarb Lemonade from Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups (200 g) chopped rhubarb

2/3 cup (135 g) sugar

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (135 ml) fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)

Directions

Put the rhubarb, sugar, and 1 and 2/3 cups (400 ml) water in a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so that the syrup simmers. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the rhubarb has fallen apart and imbued the liquid its color.

While the syrup is still hot, pour it through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl. Use a rubber spatula to really press on the rhubarb mush and squeeze out every last drop. Let cool.

There should be about 1 ¼ cups (300 ml) rhubarb syrup. If there is more, save it for adding later on. Pour the rhubarb syrup into a 1-quart (1-L) jar. Add the lemon juice and 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (495 ml) water into a large jar or pitcher. Stir our shake well.

Serve chilled over ice.

Makes 1 quart.

Feeling Bookish

I was sick this past week. Like, missed several days of work sick. No television was watched, no books were read. That kind of sick. Actually, we were all sick: me, Rich and even our little cat, who had to spend some time at the vet.  It was only this past weekend that I decided I was up to leaving the couch and head outside for a little walk. My destination was the library, which is less than 10 minutes on foot from the house. I’d already put my name in online for a couple of books, but it will be months before any of them are in my hands. And anyways, there’s something downright magical about a trip to the library. Can you imagine, a whole building full of books and movies and music, all free? Splendid, I tell you.

And there it was, right in the new releases, Andrea Reusing’s brand new Cooking in the Moment. I had read about her miraculous anchovy mayonnaise here, and her wondrous asparagus with soy and butter here. Somehow I figured this book would be on reserve for months before I could get a hold of it. But like I said, the library is magical.

I picked up a few other cookbooks – is there anything one can do with CSA garlic scapes besides make it into pesto? – and checked out the book sale in the back room. I also found success there, in the form of a cookbook devoted entirely to onions and a book of porky goodness for Rich.  And off I went, with my bag full of books.

I’ve done the walk home from the library dozens of times since I’ve lived in our neighborhood, and I’ve have developed the safest route home where I can have my head buried in a book while walking on the sidewalk. I made it through the introduction and was deep into the spring section by the time I’d made it back to my couch where my cat and I spent the rest of the afternoon, intermittently reading (me) and napping (both of us). I imagined what pickled sour cherries would taste like in July, was curious about the spinach with melted leeks and cardamom in late September, and wondered if I could wait until winter to enjoy roasted Japanese turnips with honey.

This is Reusing’s first book, and she writes the same way she cooks at her Chapel Hill restaurant Lantern: using local and seasonal fruits and vegetables. She wrote the book over the course of a year, sitting down when she could, perhaps on a Saturday afternoon in late August, after enjoying an eggplant salad with walnuts and garlic. She literally cooks and writes “in the moment.” North Carolina is of course a bit more temperate than Boston, but certain fruits and veggies have their season, so I dove right into June, excited to see what tricks she had up her sleeve.

I see these two weeks I have the book out of the library as free-trial period. No money down, and I can return it, no questions asked. That being said, if all the recipes are like this one here that I saw and knew I needed to make, well, Reusing has just sold a copy of her book.

I had been bookmarking rhubarb recipes for nearly a month: muffins, compotes, cakes, clafoutis and jams, but none of them felt like a June recipe to me. But when I saw this sorbet recipe, that teams rhubarb with a ginger syrup, I knew I had found what I was looking for. I used about half the amount of rhubarb that Reusing calls for, but left the amount of ginger syrup the same. The result was wonderful: soft, sweet, fragrant and surprisingly creamy for a sorbet. It also yielded about 1 1/2 cups, which is what the original recipe says it will make. I used this for my sieve.

I’ve since announced to Rich that we will now have ginger syrup on-hand at all times in the house. As Reusing points out, there is a touch more syrup made than what is needed for the recipe, and suggests to make a spring cocktail combining it with muddled fresh strawberries, lime juice and vodka, served over ice. Don’t mind if I do!

Rhubarb-Ginger Sorbet from “Cooking in the Moment” by Andrea Reusing

Makes 1 1/2 cups

3 pounds fresh rhubarb, thinly sliced (about 2 quarts)

1 1/2 cups Ginger Syrup (recipe follows)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste

In a nonreactive saucepan, bring the rhubarb, ginger syrup, and salt to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the rhubarb turns a deep, dusky rose color and is the texture of very soft applesauce. (It took me closer to 25 minutes to reach that stage, but perhaps you’ll have better luck than me.) Push through a medium (not fine) sieve or colander with a spatula while still warm. It should yield 4 cups. Cool before adding the lemon juice and freezing an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. (We actually put the bowl in an ice bath to speed up the cooldown before mixing.)

Ginger Syrup

Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 cups sliced, unpeeled fresh ginger

Bring 1 1/4 cups water to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Stir in the sugar and ginger and bring to a very low simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Cool the ginger in the liquid and then strain.