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Poaching in simple syrup suits rhubarb


Makes about 5 cups

1 cup water

1⁄4 cup sugar

1 whole vanilla bean

1-inch piece cinnamon stick

1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

1⁄2 cup brown sugar

1 pound rhubarb stems, cut into 3⁄4-inch pieces

1⁄2 tablespoon balsamic syrup

In a non-reactive heavy pot with tight lid, combine water and sugar, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat.

Add the strawberries, stir gently to coat berries with syrup and cover. Remove from heat and
set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Use slotted spoon to remove berries from syrup and place them in a container that will hold them in a single layer. Cover and chill.

Leave vanilla pod and cinnamon in the pan and place over medium heat, stirring in the brown sugar until melted. Bring to a full rolling boil and add rhubarb. Stir gently over medium heat for just 30 seconds, then turn off heat, cover and let pan sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Once rhubarb is cool, remove vanilla bean and very gently combine strawberries with rhubarb, adding the splash of vinegar.

Serve over ice cream, yogurt, pound cake or angel food cake. Cover and chill any left over compote; it will keep several days.

Updated: June 2, 2014 12:48PM

Bright red, tart, poisonous, stringy, delicious. All those descriptions can be attached to rhubarb. But put rhubarb in any menu listing, from drinks to entrees to desserts, and I’ll order it eagerly.

I watch the garden for the first green leaves, wait forever for the stems to attain the optimum 1-inch width. The initial bundle always results in a pie. As the season progresses, there are sauces for meat and ice cream, then muffins and cake fillings. My files burst with ideas yet untried.

But what about those negative descriptors? I like to soften the tartness with brown sugar, and always cut off the toxic leaves, but avoiding the unique texture that happens when rhubarb is overcooked has eluded me until now.

Perusing a favorite cookbook, I spy a possible solution.

Rhubarb cooks very quickly, and overcooking results in the unpleasant stringy texture. Here it simply sits awhile in the hot syrup to cook. I decide this poaching method is worth a try.

This process takes a bit of standing and cooling time, so plan accordingly. I like the molasses flavor of the brown sugar and, in the end, I enhanced the tartness of rhubarb with a drizzle of a good quality balsamic syrup.

To all of those descriptions for rhubarb, add this one: Mmmmm!

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