Here is the recipe I’ve been working on: rhubarb and spruce tips, a glug of white wine, sugar, and a knob of butter – all baked into a meltingly soft, eye-poppingly tangy, incredibly easy dessert (or breakfast, bedtime snack or lunch, as it has been around here). And then, to add more options, try substituting fresh chopped basil for the spruce tips, and bazinga! – tastes different but equally addictive.
I’m still on my spruce tips kick, but they are soon to be over. The tightly closed tips are developing into soft, feathery green fronds. I’m finding that they are still usable though, even like that. If you pop one in your mouth and chew it, you will be surprised by the citrusy-tang of it. Quite a revelation. Until the spruce branch tips start to harden, they still work beautifully for cooking. They keep well in a baggie or covered container in the fridge, so pop out and pick a few, quick, to use later. I’m going to try freezing some, too, and see what happens.
But if your spruce tip season is over, I do recommend the basil.
My rhubarb is looking like an alien creature again this year, with its massive elephant-ear-sized leaves and towering flower spikes. I feel like a mighty hunter with my machete (er, um, kitchen knife) hacking off the mighty leaves with a single ‘thwack’, then a primal forager as I fill my apron pockets with edible spruce tips from the wild and savage forest (er, um, neatly planted rows) of the northern wilderness (um, pastoral acreage).
Well, it’s a nice fantasy anyway.
And the final results are homey and sophisticated at the same time – great for slurping big bowlfuls in front of the TV in your pajamas, or serving to guests after a lovely meal and visit shared around the table. The wine and spruce tips or basil somehow meld together to make a new and subtle flavour that enhances the rhubarb and mellows it at the same time. You cock your head and wonder, hmmm, rhubarb -yes – but what else is in there? And you take another spoonful, and another, and another.
We’ve enjoyed this baked rhubarb compote warm over a good vanilla ice cream, or frozen yogurt. . . and then I discovered the recipe for Swedish Cream in one of my cookbooks, and mmmm. So light and delicate, the perfect foil for the tart rhubarb. The Swedish Cream is really just a panna cotta (which is really just a lightly jellied milk and cream mixture) made with buttermilk added to it. Each portion becomes a softly quivering mound when un-molded and looks inviting when surrounded by its bed of syrupy pink rhubarb.
Andreas, who gags at the mention of buttermilk, gave this Swedish Cream a thumbs-up. You cannot even tell what is in it, just that each mouthful is silky-smooth and cool against the fresh, tart rhubarb.
Kitchen Frau Note: Any white wine works for the baked rhubarb – I tried it with Sauvignon Blanc and with Chardonnay. Both a hit. And the recipe halves easily (though if your household is like mine, don’t bother, the refrigerator elves seem to be able to make it disappear in no time!), just use 2 tablespoons of the chopped spruce tips or basil and bake it in a 9″x9″ baking pan.
This baked rhubarb compote would be lovely as a warm breakfast or brunch side dish, too. Or served over pancakes. Mmmmmm.
Spruce Tip (or Basil) Baked Rhubarb Compote
- 2 lbs (900gms) rhubarb, cut into 1″ pieces (about 7 to 8 cups)
- 1½ cups (360ml) natural cane sugar
- 1 cup (240ml) white wine
- ¼ cup (60ml) spruce tips or basil, chopped
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) butter
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Have ready a 9″x13″ glass, enamel, or stainless steel baking dish. If you use aluminum or tin it will react with the rhubarb, discolouring the pan and making the rhubarb taste metallic (not to mention the bad stuff leaching out of the metal into your lovely compote.)
Chop the rhubarb into 1″ pieces and put into the baking pan. Add the sugar, white wine, and spruce tips or basil. Stir to distribute the sugar evenly. Plop the butter on top and place the pan in the preheated oven.
Bake for 1 hour, stirring gently after about 15 minute, so as not to break up the rhubarb but to distribute the butter which should now be melted.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly in the pan.
Serve warm over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, or over the Swedish Cream which you’ve made the day before. Recipe follows.
Kitchen Frau Note #2: When you refrigerate the leftovers, the butter will harden, so it is best to gently reheat the compote on the stovetop or in the microwave, just to lukewarm, when serving it again.. The butter is important in the recipe because it keeps the top of the rhubarb from drying out and hardening while baking, since you don’t want to stir it too much.
adapted from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison
- 1 cup (240ml) whipping cream or half and half cream
- ¼ cup (60ml) honey
- ¼ cup (60ml) water
- ¼-ounce (7gm) envelope unflavoured gelatin (1 tablespoon)
- 2 cups (480ml) buttermilk or yogurt
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla
Coat the insides of 6 small (¾ cup) custard cups or dessert bowls with a flavourless oil.
Heat the cream and the honey in a saucepan over medium heat just til they reach a boil. Remove from the heat. Meanwhile, stir the gelatin into the water in a small bowl, and let sit for 5 minutes to soften.
Add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and honey. Stir until it’s totally dissolved. Stir in the buttermilk and the vanilla. Pour the mixture into the custard cups or dessert bowls and refrigerate until set, about 3 or 4 hours or overnight.
To serve, dip each custard cup into hot water for 15 to 30 seconds, until the edges loosen and carefully invert onto individual serving plates. Spoon the rhubarb compote around the beautiful quivery Swedish Cream. If you made it in dessert dishes, you can leave it in the dishes and serve with the rhubarb compote spooned on top.
Either way is great.