I was playing around with with rhubarb and strawberries which are in season now and discovered two delicious “base materials” for improvising. Simmering strawberries and rhubarb briefly in a sauterne-like white wine syrup released their flavor to make an intensely-flavored “juice”. When I strained it, I discovered that I had not only made strawberry-rhubarb syrup, but the leftover solids were in fact a delectable cross between a sauce and a compote – a velvety confit. Each inspired other improvisations…
The strawberry-rhubarb confit is extremely versatile:
-Serve warm or chilled for dessert in tandem with heavy cream, ice cream or crème fraîche.
-It makes a splendid breakfast with yogurt or on French toast.
-The confit also complements many savory foods, such as roasted pork, chicken, duck and game, in the way apple sauce does, as well as dried-cured hams, such as Serrano, prosciutto and duck hams, and smoked chicken, turkey and duck.
-The confit also makes an instant filling for pastry-like creations; simply fill a prebaked tart shell with the confit and serve with whipped cream.
-Sandwiched between a split buttermilk biscuit with some whipped cream, it would make a marvelous shortcake.
-It’s a natural with cream; add it to churning vanilla ice cream for strawberry-rhubarb ice cream.
-Blend with strawberry ice cream and milk for a milkshake (see recipe below).
-Layer into a tall glass with vanilla or strawberry or vanilla ice cream for a parfait.
-If you simmer the confit in a heavy pan over low heat, it will become a thick, old-fashioned jam.
The rhubarb syrup inspires all kinds of drinks and cocktails. Since rhubarb is a delicate flavor, care must be taken not to overpower it; milder alcohols like vodka and white rum work best. It’s makes great sauce for sliced fresh strawberries or peaches…and a lovely lemonade (see recipe below).
Recipe: Strawberry Rhubarb Confit and Rhubarb Syrup for Improvising
Makes about 2 cups confit and 3 cups syrup
2 1/2 cups dry white wine
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons wild flower honey
2 to 3 cups strawberries, hulled and halved
2 pounds rhubarb, preferably red stalks, sliced 1/4-inch thick (8 to 10 cups)
2 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
In a large saucepan, combine the wine, 3/4 cups of the sugar and the honey; bring to low boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Add the strawberries and cook until the strawberries are flabby and pale, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a strainer set over a bowl, occasionally pouring the juices that collect around them back into the pot. (The strawberries are really meant to infuse the syrup, but if you find they still have some flavor, save them to eat with yogurt.)
Add the rhubarb and return to a low boil. Cover until the rhubarb has released its juices, 3 minutes. Uncover and simmer until the rhubarb is falling apart 5 to 7 minutes.
Working in batches if necessary, pour the mixture through a fine strainer set over a bowl; let sit several minutes, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula or a spoon to extract most of the liquid; transfer the thick confit to a bowl.
Stir 1 or 2 tablespoons lemon juice and additional sugar into the confit if desired. Taste the syrup; if you want intensify the flavor, pour back into the pot and simmer to reduce it a bit. Add a pinch of salt, 1 or 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and additional sugar if desired; transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use.
Recipe: Rhubarb Lemonade
With a rosy color and a tart undercurrent of rhubarb, this is “beyond lemonade”.
For each serving, combine 1/2-cup Rhubarb Syrup (above), 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 2 teaspoons superfine sugar; add 2 tablespoons cold water or plain seltzer. If you’re using already-made lemonade, figure about 1/2-cup Rhubarb Syrup to 1/4 cup lemonade. Serve over ice.
Recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Milk Shake
I like to serve this unusual milk shake as an unexpected and charming dessert for dinner parties but it is perfect anytime you are in the mood for a shake. Serves 4.
In a blender container, combine 2 cups strawberry ice cream, 2 cups chilled Rhubarb Confit, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 2 ice cubes. Blend on low speed, dribbling in enough cold milk, up to 1/4 cup, to get the mixture moving. Blend on high speed until thick and creamy, adding 1 or 2 teaspoons fresh lime or lemon juice and additional sugar to taste if desired to lift the flavors. Discard the ice cubes and pour the mixture into our 8-ounce glasses or goblets.