When a lady who just had a baby not only offers you rhubarb from her garden, but then goes out and cuts it for you herself, you must, must, do something especially good with it. This describes the good fortune I had recently, and I was determined that this was not the time for agonizing over which recipe among a stack of delicious-looking candidates would provide the best opportunity to feature that perfect rhubarb while it wastes away in the refrigerator, untouched until it’s too late. How do I know that such things can happen? It’s best if we don’t discuss it.
Oh, there were many options in that stack of recipes, but I made a quick decision. I went with something versatile, a rhubarb compote, admittedly similar to the Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce I made last year, but also more sophisticated and, in my opinion, more delicious. It’s basically a big pot of rhubarb cooked with brown sugar and vanilla bean.
I was quite surprised by the difference brown sugar makes in this recipe as compared to the regular white sugar I’ve used with rhubarb before. It brings in caramel notes that go beyond the sweetness rhubarb requires. The vanilla bean (actually half a vanilla bean) is pure luxury. This was the first time I ever used a vanilla bean in my life, and I’m hooked. The bean provides an additional rich, floral and fruity quality that just isn’t present in the vanilla extract we all know and love. I won’t stop using vanilla extract (it’s significantly less expensive as well as more convenient to use) and you may be able to use extract in this dish if you stir some in at the end of cooking. If, however, you’re curious about vanilla beans, or you bought one on a whim, this is a good recipe to try one out. It’s easy to make and the vanilla bean’s influence on the flavor is quite apparent.
After looking more closely at some of the rhubarb recipes I had to pass by, I noticed that many of them begin by cooking the rhubarb into a sauce kind of like this one. That could mean that I could simply substitute this compote into these recipes as needed: pies and tarts, waffles, custard bars and even cheesecake. I already know it’s fabulous on vanilla ice cream (also made with a vanilla bean. Like I said, I’m hooked.) I can’t wait to see what else it can do.
Rhubarb Compote with Brown Sugar and Vanilla Bean
Adaped from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Good to the Grain
I often add lemon juice to rhubarb recipes, because I read that the acid helps keep the final product a nice pink color. You can leave it out if desired.
1 ½ pounds rhubarb, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
½ vanilla bean (cut the whole bean in half crosswise and store the remaining piece)
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Place the rhubarb in a medium-sized saucepan. Cut open the skin of the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the fine black seeds on the inside with the tip of a knife. Add the scraped seeds and the rest of the pod to the rhubarb. Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir well.
2. Heat the rhubarb mixture over medium low heat, stirring frequently until it begins to soften and give off some liquid. Cover and cook over medium low heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Uncover and cook over medium-low to medium heat 15-17 minutes or until very saucy. Remove the vanilla bean pod.