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I'm trying, this year, to avoid overcommitting. Or, if I can't manage to commit less, then to prioritize more. But it hasn't been an easy habit—quirk? impulse? personality trait?—to break.
I went to the market and bought five stalks of season's reddest rhubarb, like vixen-shade lipstick, and maneuvered it into my refrigerator. From there, it taunted me.
Even though I had five million other things to do (we all have five million other things to do), I couldn't handle staring at those lengths—selfishly sprawling across entire shelf of the refrigerator—for even one day. So, logically, I put off all the actually significant stuff and browsed rhubarb recipes, in books (real books!) and on the internet, instead.
But many required pie dough and ginger and lemon zest. Some asked for oats, for rose water, for mustard seeds, for hazelnut frangipane, for buckets of strawberries. Two recipes I was momentarily (very momentarily) tempted by ask you to shave the rhubarb, then either wrap or weave its wisps.
Maybe if I ran to the store and bought a vegetable peeler, and a tart pan, and all of the ingredients I did not have, I could make this happen. Maybe I could make it happen in time for the impending picnic at 3 P.M. that very afternoon!
But I had no eggs and I had no more than 1 cup of sugar and a knob of butter used for greasing a cake pan days before. I had humans to talk to, emails to answer. I could not, responsibly, hide away in the kitchen. There would be no hazelnut frangipane; there would not—and, I recognized, there should not—be any rhubarb latticework. There were other items to prioritize.
So I turned to Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and her hug of a rhubarb recipe. It has only four ingredients—butter, rhubarb, sugar, and orange-flavored liqueur. No spices to obscure the vegetable's tartness (but the butter does soften the blow); no lemon zest to
"add brightness" get in the way.
With one pot and 15 minutes, you have a sweet and slumpy jam that shouts, "Sometimes the straightest road is not only the fastest, but also the best!"
Molly adapted the recipe from Dana Cree, a professional pastry chef whose website The Pastry Department tell us, for starters, about how a gravity-defying cake gets from the kitchen to the table at some of the country's most innovative restaurants—and about the lives of the people who make it happen.
If this rhubarb compote—minimal in ingredients, simple in technique, humble in appearance—has her endorsement, and if Molly calls it "simple, and it’s perfect, and every spring [...] the rhubarb recipe that I think of first," it's good enough to make my priority.
And I can check it off my to-do list quickly.
- 1 pound (455 grams) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into roughly 3/4-inch chunks
- 1/2 to 3/4 cups (100 to 150 grams) sugar
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) salted butter (or use unsalted and add a pinch of salt)
- 2 tablespoons orange liqueur, like Cointreau or Grand Marnier
What's your favorite dead-simple recipe? Share it with me in the comments!