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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: Transform your season's harvest into a simple, versatile compote, without fancy canning equipment -- and without a recipe.
As a great philosopher (or maybe Shakespeare?) once famously mused: Where does compote end, and jam begin? Simply put, compote is like jam, simplified -- it doesn't need any additional thickeners, and you don't have to tackle that terrifying process known as "canning." At its essence, compote is fruit, broken down with heat -- and with the addition of a few flavorings to sharpen its edges and make it sing.
Besides its utter simplicity, compote's best selling point is its versatility. It can be made with whatever combination of fruits you have in fridge, and it's the highest calling of your bruised, almost over-the-hill market haul. With the addition of heat and a few pantry basics, you can transform any fruit into a thick, spreadable compote in under an hour -- here's how.
1. Choose your fruit! Go with whatever's in season -- we got our hands on some sweet strawberries, but late summer berries, stone fruits, apples, and even eggplant would work as well. And remember: This is a prime opportunity to use bruised specimens: With a little heat, acid, and sugar, the ugly duckling will transform into a beautiful, fruit-laden swan.
More: Before heading to the farmers market, read this.
Also get out: Some source of acid, such as lemon, lime, or even a splash of vinegar; a sweetener, such as maple syrup, sugar, or honey; a pinch of salt, and anything else you'd like to flavor the compote. I went with vanilla, but cinnamon, cloves, or even a hint of chili would all be great add-ins, depending on the fruit in question. Play around with it until you find a combination that's your jam, pun intended.
2. Cut off any inedible parts of your fruit (here's what to do with your strawberry tops), zest your citrus, scrape out your vanilla bean, then toss everything into a saucepan. If you want your compote to have a thinner consistency, add in a few splashes of water or juice.
More: Make sure to compost those inedible odds and ends! Here's how.
3. Set the mixture on the stove over low heat, then forget about it. When the heavenly aroma of fresh berry fields comes wafting from your kitchen, give it a stir or two -- it's not needy. Let the fruit break down as much or as little as you like (sometimes I like mine to be more closely akin to fruit swimming in syrup, as in this grits recipe). When the fruit is to your desired level of softness and the whole thing looks glossy, the compote is done. Don't worry if it seems thin -- it will thicken as it cools.
4. Give the compote a taste, then adjust the flavorings until sweet, sour, and savory meet in your ideal balance. If you're feeling frisky, feel free to add a splash of bourbon or rum. You could also stir in some chopped, dried fruit for texture. Once it cools, you could also purée the mixture until smooth, thinning it out as needed with water. Pour it over pancakes, or add a splash to brighten up your cocktails.
5. Once it's cool, store your compote in a tightly sealed jar and keep refrigerated for up to two weeks. Spoon it over vanilla ice cream, swirl it into your morning yogurt, and spread it on fat slices of golden challah bread. Lord knows we did.
More: What's your idea of the perfect compote? Do you like it thick and syrupy? Full of fat pieces of rhubarb? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom