If you’ve ever been to any family gathering at my folks house, you will be familiar with at least one of the following stories:
The time when my little brother got scared by a possum on the porch and had my dad shoot it in the balls with a BB gun.
The time my sister threw all of her ex-husband’s belongings off the balcony and locked him out of the house.
The time when my Nana and great-uncle Lowell were forced to eat rhubarb pie at the Cabot family home when she was a little girl.
So you are probably humming to yourself ♫One of these things is not like the other♫. While the first two stories evoke a certain, ahem, Texas-ness, the story of my grandmother dining with the Boston Brahmins though different in local color still enjoys at least one revival a year. In a nutshell, my great-grandmother, who worked for the Cabots, was invited to an employee lunch at their home. My Nana and great-uncle were under strict orders to eat every bite of every dish they put on their plates, or else. So of course when they saw the lovely pink rhubarb pie they each got a huge slice and dug in, only to be assaulted by a bitter, sour goop that they had to choke down until it was gone, lest the incite my great-grandma’s ire. You should see my Nana’s face when she tells this story, it’s like she’s still trying to swallow it. This story has been told so many times and with such theatrics that it has left an indelible mark on my culinary sensibilities: rhubarb is the most vile thing you could put in a pie crust.
Pretty in Pink
And this is so unfair to rhubarb. Just look at how pretty it is.
Rhubarb has made several recent appearances at the farmers market and realizing that there must be some redeeming quality to it, I decided to give it a try. Further encouragement arrived in the June Food411 newsletter “ Romancing Rhubarb “. While I’m only interested in friendship [giggles nervously], this article is a great intro for those of us who have never cooked with the vegetable before.
The easiest thing you can do with rhubarb is make a compote , which is basically simmering it in sweet liquid until it breaks down to the consistency you desire. Rhubarb is fantastic for compote because it takes about 10-15 minutes to render a chunky compote, and roughly 30 minutes to get a smooth applesauce texture. BTW, check out cookthink.com if you fancy yourself a food nerd. I ♥ it.
The basic recipe for compote is simple enough: chopped rhubarb, water, sugar. I wanted to make it a little more special so added an herb that has been finding its way into many of my dishes lately: tarragon . You have to go easy with the T, man, or it will kick your dishes’ ass. But when done with subtlety it lends a sweet anise flavor that is hard to match with any other herb. Of course you could leave it out of this recipe altogether and it would still be delicious.
You read that correctly, it said “DELICIOUS”. Mixed with some greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey, this rhubarb compote makes an elegant and refreshing dessert perfect for completing a summertime meal. I feel that I have vindicated this vegetable to my family…if only I can undo the years of conditioning and get them to try this recipe.
Rhubarb Compote with Greek Yogurt
Total time: 20 minutes
Serves 4 as a dessert
1 lb rhubarb, washed, ends trimmed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups greek yogurt
honey for drizzling
Prep work: Wash, trim and chop the rhubarb.
Place the rhubarb, water and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over high heat until the water begins to simmer. It may not look like enough water but the rhubarb will release its juices and break down quickly, so trust.
Lower the heat to medium and continue simmering for 10 minutes if you like a few chunks, longer if you want a smooth rhubarb sauce.
When it gets to the consistency you like, remove the compote from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. You can store it in the refrigerator for a week.
Divide the yogurt evenly among four bowls. Top each dish with 1/4 of the compote and a drizzle of honey. Serve right away.