During my weekly trips to the farmers market, I love seeing all the fresh produce that is the hallmark of each season. But I always wonder about a few things.
How many people are buying those eggplants or sweet bulbs of fennel? What about the watermelon radishes and celery root? And is anyone choosing the little baskets of fresh figs for their appetizer plate?
One of the farmers I often speak to at the market was recently lamenting the change in customers’ buying and cooking habits. He claimed that prepared food is so popular that few people regularly are “really cooking anymore.” He wishes he had been an eye doctor.
Well, I do. Cook, that is—and regularly. So, I buy things that actually need to be cooked.
Spring is still with us. The homegrown spring lettuces are a wonderful addition to salads and the “real strawberries” from local farms put the off-season berries in plastic clamshells to shame. Sugar peas must be “strung,” but they are a special treat when cooked with small new potatoes and olive oil.
But what about rhubarb? I still buy it every spring during its very short appearance at the market. If you are not familiar with this special vegetable (that is treated as a fruit), it looks like bright, cherry-red celery. You can’t eat it out of hand like an apple, but, when cooked in sauces and desserts, rhubarb is transformed.
Every year, I look for thin rhubarb stalks, which are more tender than their fuller-figured relatives. Like my mother, I often just cook it with a little water, sugar and orange slices to make a sauce. It can be served with dinner, as a simple dessert with ice cream, or even breakfast with plain yogurt.
The cookbook author and TV celebrity Ina Garten has a similar rhubarb sauce that is even better. Ina adds raspberries and strawberries to hers and serves it with a little whipped cream and a store-bought cookie for a very easy, late spring dessert. Orange liqueur gives the compote a little kick but is optional. I am sharing her recipe with you this month. I hope you will try it for something very different.
Ina’s Stewed Rhubarb with Red Berries
- 2 pounds fresh rhubarb, cut in ¾ inch chunks (6 to 8 cups)
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pint fresh or frozen strawberries (thickly sliced)
- ½ pint fresh or frozen red raspberries
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
- 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Triple Sec (these are both orange-infused liqueurs)
- Sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for servings
- Place the rhubarb in a large saucepan and add the sugar, salt and 2/3-cup water.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally until the rhubarb is tender and starts to fall apart.
- Remove from the heat, stir in the strawberries, raspberries, lemon and orange juices and Grand Marnier if using. Allow the mixture to cool.
- Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
This lovely fruit compote can be made several days ahead and kept in the refrigerator. It is a light dessert and would be a very good choice for a little dinner party.
If cooking with rhubarb is new for you, you will be amazed at how many ways you can use it. There are rhubarb cocktails and rhubarb pies. Rhubarb scones and tangy rhubarb glazing sauces for grilled chicken. Rhubarb crisps and cobblers. Rhubarb relish served with goat cheese on French bread baguette slices.
So, stop a minute at the produce section of your favorite market and think about giving those strange fruits and vegetables a try. Our local farmers will thank you.
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