My only rhubarb (ahem!) would be with the weather. Will sun ever come out again I growled towards the heavens? And despite - or because of the incessant rain - my garden is lush and glorious. I'm one of those lucky New Yorkers who has an outdoor space. Not just a sliver of balcony but a full-on, south-facing space with established plants and an enormous Norway maple - growing in the adjacent garden - that hangs over a corner of my garden, and in the summertime gives the blazingly hot spot a patch of shade.
The periwinkle blue clematis (don't ask me its name - because it has long ago been erased from my memory - which I shouldn't have trusted in the first place - and like a real gardener, should have written down) and its saucer-like, white neighbor are the first plants I see when I open my back door. They almost make me forget the weather. But not for long, because the relentless rain battered them, and they are disappearing sooner than usual.
The heuchera, however - ding-dong (my adjective) coral belles and purple palace - are enduring specimens having lived for at least 15 years confined to not too big pots. They live through the freezing and thawing winter weather, love to be covered with snow, and faithfully come back, year after year.
I chose this apartment, with its very large garden (almost the size of my apartment)- instead of one with an extra bedroom - so that I can entertain outside. I can invite more people for a meal in the warm weather then the cool. My guests can dine comfortably, surrounded by fragrant plants, chirping birds, and the occasional firefly, buffered from screeching city noise by thick greenery and my apartment. All is weather-dependant, of course.
My friends, the Bellati had been in New York for the past 2 weeks visiting from their home in the Veneto, Italy - ( see Contessanally for all their adventures while in the City - well, at least Nally's!) - I wanted to have them over for tea - in the garden - on their final day in New York. You probably know how that tea in garden didn't happen - it happened inside. It wasn't really raining - but it was grey and chilly. However, I carried on with my menu.
This rhubarb started with rhubarb, the stalk. It seems that every farmer, in every market in the greenmarket system has piles of blushing rhubarb for sale. I'm crazy about rhubarb - even although it makes my teeth feel like a chalkboard being scratched by fingernails. I do several things with rhubarb. But this compote is my favorite way to use it. Once I have the versatile compote in the fridge I use it in several preparations.
RHUBARB & STRAWBERRY COMPOTE
I use honey for this compote. First and most importantly, my brother-in-law, Jim Gross, is a beekeeper on Nantucket. His dozen or so hives produce hundreds and hundreds of pounds of blue-ribbon award-winning honey not defined by a particular blossom - but, a blend of many - he collects his honey at the end of season. I like the way its deep, earthy flavor takes the edge off the rhubarb without turning it into something that's cloying. And, the sturdy rhubarb stands up to the honey and retains its integrity. Local strawberries are coming from South Jersey. Huzza.
Makes about 1 3/4 quarts
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 pounds rhubarb, leaf end and root end removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 quart strawberries, hulled and cut in half
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
juice of 1/2 orange
1/2 - 3/4 cup pure honey
1. Add all the ingredients to a large, non-reactive saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the rhubarb is soft - 15 - 20 minutes.
2. Let cool. Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Late May Tea Party:
. Sweet and Salty Almonds (see Cocktail Prolonge, January 11, 2011 blog for recipe)
. Radish and Butter Sandwiches - good quality butter spread on each side of sliced egg challah or brioche bread. Line one side of bread with sliced radishes, sprinkle with coarse salt - I like flaky Maldon salt - and chopped chives. Make a sandwich and press firmly to insure that the radishes will adhere to the butter. Cut into 2, 3, or 4 pieces.
. Smoked Salmon on Cucumber Slices - cut English cucumbers on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices - smear each slice with a bit of softened cream cheese, top each piece with a little folded piece of smoked salmon and garnish with a piece of chive.
. Kunik Cheese with Crackers - I've talked about this upstate New York cheese in other posts. It is with a doubt my favorite local cheese. The voluptuous triple creme is made with goat's milk and Jersey cow's milk cream.
. Rhubarb- Strawberry Parfaits - I used juice glasses to create this Sunday sundae - first, some Rhubarb & Strawberry Compote, Ronnybrook Farm coconut yogurt and topped with a sprinkling of homemade granola.
Make a scrumptious Rhubarb & Strawberry Smoothie for one - add 1/2 cup of the compote, 1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt, a splash of pure vanilla extract, a pinch of ground cinnamon, and 6 or 7 ice cubes to a blender and blend until thick and smooth. Consume, with pleasure, immediately!