Rhubarb is one on my absolute favorite things. It make me happy and excited for springtime like nothing else. I think my favorite part is that it happens to be one of the most girly, most romantic foods I can think of. Part of that is the color (bright pink...how is that not the most feminine food one can think of) and part of it is the flavor (like a bitter, florally punch) but it is also that everything with rhubarb is instantly fun, exciting, and wholly indulgent. It's that kind of teatime, garden party type food that feels special on a random Tuesday. When I was in England, I was amazed at how much rhubarb there is everywhere...rhubarb yoghurt, rhubarb cordial, rhubarb compote, etc. Coming back to the US, I find that rhubarb is still stuck somewhere between an heirloom pie makers ingredient and an avant-garde product, not an everyday indulgence as it should be (in my opinion!).
It really couldn't be an easier veggie to use (yes a veggie, think celery, though some weird US legislation from the 40's declared it a fruit...). Roast it, bake it, sautee it...you can do anything with it. Plus it can be savory or sweet, although I'm more of a sweet fan. Shopping for rhubarb can be tricky around here...it does come around at the farmers' markets, so keep and eye out for it in the early spring. If you can find it there and it still has leaves attached, it can be a good sign of the freshness...fresh looking leaves equals fresh rhubarb...but ABSOLUTELY do not use the leaves. They're not like beet greens. They are poisonous. Don't do it.
I can usually find it in my nicer local grocery store, Diablo Foods, at the right time of year, and it usually has the leaves removed. Look for firm, shiny stalks, not limp, with a good, strong red color. The red color means it's a little sweeter, but it will also mean a more beautiful color when you cook it. Greener stalks are fine to use. They may need a bit more sugar to draw out the flavor, but the color will turn out to be a muddier brownish color, which kind of defeats the purpose.
My favorite way to cook rhubarb it to make a quick compote, and it's really easy. I usually add vanilla beans because how can you make something so cute and sweet and pretty even cuter and prettier? Add amazing vanilla flavor and those gorgeous vanilla specks. If you wanted, you could also throw in a few hulled strawberries for a strawberry rhubarb compote, but for this one I like the pure flavor of rhubarb.
Quick Rhubarb Vanilla Compote
Makes about 8 oz.
4 stalks rhubarb
1/2-3/4 cups granulated sugar (depending on the ripeness and sweetness of your rhubarb)
1 vanilla bean, split in half
Clean the rhubarb and remove the though ends and any trace of leaves. Cut rhubarb into about 1/2 inch chunks...smaller if you like your compote really broken down, larger if you like it super chunky.
Place rhubarb in a dry pan with the sugar. Open the vanilla bean with a paring knife and scrape out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the pod the the pan (cut it in half after scraping to make it less awkward while stirring!)
Cook over low heat. The pan will be dry at first, but the sugar will cling to the rhubarb, and then it will start to release all of it's own juices. Do not be tempted to add any liquid at the beginning. It will dilute the flavor. Just keep the heat low to prevent burning the sugar.
Cook for about 10 minutes until the rhubarb is very tender. Do not stir too much; you will break up the rhubarb and it will get very pulpy, unless you like that! I prefer mine to retain a bit of the structure of the rhubarb.
Let cool, and use in any number of things! Stir into plain yogurt...amazing! Or use on toast, scones, on ice cream, use it as a cake filling, use as you would jam in any jammy cookie recipe. Pretty much anywhere you'd use jam... or try it as a soda (see below)!
Keeps for about a week in the fridge.
For an absolutely delicious homemade soda, take two teaspoons of the compote, dilute with a little warm water to thin, and then add to a glass with crushed ice. Top with sparkling water or club soda.
Thanks so much for reading the incredibly long, inaugural blog post! I hope you enjoy all of my upcoming posts, and I look forward to reading your comments and questions!